Russia once again failed to send orbit-raising commands to its stranded Phobos-Grunt spacecraft on Nov. 29 via a European Space Agency (ESA) ground station in Perth, Australia, dimming hopes that the Mars’ moon sample-return mission can be salvaged. Subsequent attempts on Nov. 30 using ESA’s 15-meter dia. antenna at its Maspalomas tracking station in the Canary Islands were also unsuccessful, ESA said.
The ambitious Russian mission, designed to return soil from one of Mars’ twin moons, has been stuck circling in low Earth orbit since its Nov. 8 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
After two weeks without radio contact, Russian ground controllers were able to reach the unmanned probe via Perth Nov. 22 and Nov. 23 after ESA augmented a 15-meter dia. antenna at the facility, though subsequent efforts have failed.
Russia’s next attempt is slated for later Nov. 30 when thruster-control commands will be sent to the spacecraft from Perth.
“However, these will be interleaved with commands to activate the radio transmitter so as to have evidence that the commands were accepted by Phobos-Grunt,” ESA said.
Phobos-Grunt controllers will send a new set of commands for upload at midday Dec. 1, after a similar modification to the 15-meter array at the Canary Islands ground facility, ESA said.
“Commands sent via Maspalomas will instruct the spacecraft in real time to activate the downlink and send telemetry,” ESA said.