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  Russia's Phobos-Grunt: comments, questions

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Author Topic:   Russia's Phobos-Grunt: comments, questions
Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-04-2011 05:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Russia's Phobos-Grunt: questions, comments
This thread is intended for comments and questions regarding the Phobos-Grunt mission and the updates published under the topic: Russia's Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars' moon.

Phobos-Grunt is Russian sample return mission to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. The Chinese Mars orbiter Yinghuo-1 will be sent together with the mission, as will the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment funded by the Planetary Society.

Phobos-Grunt is to become the first Russian interplanetary mission since the failed Mars 96 mission. If successful it will be the first spacecraft to return a macroscopic extraterrestrial sample from a planetary body since Luna 24 in 1976.

Lasv3
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posted 11-04-2011 05:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Deputies asked whether it was too risky to send a hitherto untested rover on such a responsible mission and whether it would be more reasonable to delay the mission until the end of the tests.
This seems to be a very ambitious mission, maybe even too complex. I do not understand the hurry to launch without everything being tested properly. When is the return capsule expected to land back on Earth?

music_space
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posted 11-04-2011 08:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As I understand, they'll continue testing the software during the transmartian flight. Now that's what I call all-up testing!

Lasv3
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posted 11-08-2011 05:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is a detailed pre-launch story on Spaceflight Now with technical details and mission highlights timings, however, there is no "rover" as a part of the mission mentioned there. The vehicle consists of the Phobos lander, sample return vehicle and a Chinese satellite.

No moving wheeled vehicle - at least that's what I understand "rover" means. A little bit confusing...

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-08-2011 12:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Lasv3:
No moving wheeled vehicle - at least that's what I understand "rover" means. A little bit confusing...
It may have been lost in translation, but the use of "rover" in this instance was in reference to the lander. I have seen other Russian news reports that described NASA's Phoenix lander as a rover as well.

Lasv3
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posted 11-08-2011 01:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That explains the discrepancy, thanks for the clarification.

MarylandSpace
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posted 11-08-2011 02:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MarylandSpace   Click Here to Email MarylandSpace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just watched the launch on the internet and hope the mission is successful.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-08-2011 07:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A post on the official Phobos-Grunt website mentions an "off-nominal [emergency] situation, no telemetry."

Roscosmos has yet to confirm the burn by the spacecraft's main propulsion unit, or MDU. Satellite observers have reported seeing two objects — presumably the Zenit second stage and the spacecraft — in the same orbit.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-08-2011 09:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Roscosmos has now confirmed that the spacecraft did not leave Earth orbit; neither of two planned burns fired.

Roscosmos has said they have up to three days to try to initiate the burns without impacting the mission.

Lasv3
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posted 11-09-2011 12:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Looking back at the Soviet (and Russian) Mars missions success score since 1960 indicates the Little Green Men do not like Russian presence around their home planet at all.

Let's hope the problems are solved and everything goes well, fingers crossed.

mikej
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posted 11-09-2011 05:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mikej   Click Here to Email mikej     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Satellite propulsion engineer, Saturn author and historian, and collectSPACE member Alan Lawrie was quoted in a BBC article about Phobos-Grunt.
"It sounds like the spacecraft has gone into a safe mode," commented British propulsion expert Alan Lawrie from Astrium UK.

"These spacecraft do that if they hit these types of problems. It's a mode whereby the spacecraft knows it cannot do itself any harm, and that gives controllers on the ground the time to get the spacecraft back into the right configuration and to do the correct manoeuvres."

kyra
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posted 11-10-2011 07:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kyra   Click Here to Email kyra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There are two failure scenarios they are looking at - the first is that a software error prevented the stellar navigation sequence from starting. This is necessary before firing the engine. The software team is ready to make any corrections. The second scenario is more ominous - a hardware failure in the sequential system.

Glint
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posted 11-10-2011 08:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Starting to sound as though the legacy lives on: Mars 18 - Russia 3.

On edit: Had to move one to the Mars column. Zond 3 visited the Moon then sped on to Mars' orbit, but Mars didn't show up.

cspg
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posted 11-10-2011 09:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Pity we can't bet on those missions' outcome, I would have won! (not that I would have wanted to but...). Next up (or down): MSL.

Blackarrow
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posted 11-10-2011 06:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think the comment we are searching for is....Not again!!

issman1
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posted 11-11-2011 09:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for issman1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As much as one hopes Roscosmos can save Phobos-Grunt one also hopes they have plans to destroy it, before making a fiery plunge into our atmosphere with 7 tons of carcinogenic propellants?

dogcrew5369
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posted 11-12-2011 08:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dogcrew5369   Click Here to Email dogcrew5369     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think any spacecraft named "Grunt" is toying with fate

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-12-2011 10:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Fobos-Grunt in Russian (Фобос-Грунт) translates to "Phobos-Soil".

ilbasso
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posted 11-12-2011 10:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
And "Grunt" is properly pronounced "Groont". Nonetheless, it's unfortunate what happens when some names are transliterated into other languages.

Glint
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posted 11-30-2011 09:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's frustrating how Aerospace Corporation's re-entry predictions page hasn't been updated in several weeks now. For the upcoming events the site has the static message "Update in progress" -- whatever that means. Cannot tell if it's updating the predictions themselves or the mechanism behind them.

Is there another reliable source for re-entry predictions? Want to know, when the time comes, who's going to be lucky enough to view Phobos-Grunt's dramatic plonk.

ilbasso
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posted 11-30-2011 11:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ralf Vandebergh has done it again: a photo of Phobos-Grunt in orbit! (and another one here).

From what I understand, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the state of the orbit. There have been many conflicting reports about venting or attitude control raising or lowering the perigee. The latest is that the orbit is definitely decaying.

fredtrav
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posted 12-02-2011 05:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for fredtrav   Click Here to Email fredtrav     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
BBC World News is quoting the ESA as saying "The European Space Agency announced on Friday that it was now ceasing any further attempts to get a signal. "We have exhausted all the technical options at this point," said Wolfgang Hell, ESA's Phobos-Grunt service manager.

Cozmosis22
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posted 12-02-2011 09:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Cozmosis22     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sad day for planetary exploration. Anyone come up with an estimate of the economic cost of this failed venture?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-02-2011 10:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The mission was reported to cost $163 million.

Lasv3
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posted 12-03-2011 03:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
And President Medvedev wants to see the heads rolling...

Glint
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posted 12-09-2011 10:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Currently, the Aerospace Corporation's re-entry predictions page has a message saying "Updates on hiatus until 9 December 2011." But so far today, the "hiatus" continues.

Last night managed to turn the vehicle into a convenience store's parking lot in time to jump out and view a pass of Phobos-Grunt. It was rising brightly in the west as it passed through the Summer Triangle between Albireo and Altair.

It was really scooting along. After all, it's perigee is only some 122 miles (204 km)!

Glint
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posted 12-11-2011 09:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Some new details emerging from The Washington Post. Russian space journalist Anatoly Zak is quoted in the article:
“There was a serious cable connection problem discovered in Baikonur” just weeks before launch, Zak said. “They had to disconnect the cables, and these were hard connections. They had to cut them and wire them to a different route." He said engineers re-soldered electrical connections even though the craft was fueled with highly flammable hydrazine.
I wonder if the pad was evacuated during this re-wiring. A little reminiscent of the electrical issues leading to the Nedelin event.

The article also mentions January 9 as the potential date of re-entry.

Lasv3
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posted 12-11-2011 11:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lasv3   Click Here to Email Lasv3     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If it was done "weeks before launch" the spacecraft must have been still in the assembly facility as the roll-out occured only two days before launch. This means the access to the parts to be repaired was surely much better than on the pad and with enough safety precautions the risk to do this with fuel onboard was probably low.

Glint
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posted 12-11-2011 01:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Weeks according to the quote. But according to Anatoly Zak's Russian Space Web, it may have actually been only days prior to launch. The hardware changes were followed by subsequent last minute software updates as well:
Final tests uncover serious problems

On November 1, inside the MIK-31-40 assembly building, joint industrial teams had conducted tests of opening of the probe's solar panels, Roskosmos said, without much details. However only after the launch of the ill-fated mission, not unexpected stories started surfacing about numerous problems which had been uncovered during final tests in Baikonur.

As it transpired, engineers found that the polarity for the steering control of the main engine had been mistakenly switched over in the flight control software of the main BKU computer. Nobody knew how such a major problem could've been missed during supposedly thorough certification tests in Moscow. Initially, managers decided to limit corrective actions to re-soldering of respective cables. As a result, six cables had to be reconnected on a spacecraft fully loaded with toxic and explosive propellants. Similar attempts to do electric repairs on the fueled vehicle led to the mass loss of life in Baikonur in the aftermath of the infamous Nedelin disaster in 1960.

However, after these repairs, it had become clear that all control signals from multiple cables had been channeled to the same driving mechanism. This mistake could not be fixed by re-routing cables, instead requiring complex changes in the flight control software. Last updates to the programming software had to be added right at the launch site, leaving no time for a new round of tests. The incident was reported to the head of the Russian space agency, Vladimir Popovkin.

Looks like I'm not alone in noticing shades of Nedelin.

Glint
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posted 12-11-2011 01:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While the Aersospace Corporation is still "on hiatus until 9 December 2011", I've located another site with re-entry predictions for Phobos-Grunt. Zarya's predicted re-entry date is currently 09 January, 2012 UTC.

The orbit appears to be circularizing somewhat as its apogee continues to decrease faster than perigee.

Glint
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posted 01-04-2012 08:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here's an image taken yesterday (January 3) morning as Phobos-Grunt hurtled overhead through Ursa Major:

Glint
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posted 01-06-2012 01:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Russians have stated Phobos-Grunt re-entry is expected to occur on or about January 15.

Glint
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posted 01-11-2012 01:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The currently displayed estimate from The Aerospace Corporation is calling for a January 16 UTC re-entry off the coast of (where else?) Australia.

Looks like the USA and Canada are well positioned to be under the ascending (moving south to north) revs prior to, and descending revs following, the predicted time. Europe is well placed only for descending revs prior to. Could put on quite a show for observers in those locations, if things work out well.

The prediction is very likely to be upated more than once until the actual event occurs.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-14-2012 06:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Roscosmos' latest map for the predicted reentry period clears all of North America but still leaves a lot of populated areas in Phobos-Grunt's path.

Reentry is expected between 8:36 a.m. and 4:24 p.m. CST (1436 to 2224 GMT) on Sunday, Jan. 15.

David Carey
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posted 01-16-2012 11:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David Carey   Click Here to Email David Carey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
An interesting theory/explanation/accusation around the failure?
A powerful electromagnetic emission from a U.S. radar in the Pacific could have caused the malfunctioning of the Russian Phobos-Grunt probe, the Kommersant daily said on Tuesday.

A Russian government investigation commission is considering several causes of the failure, including a short circuit or "external impact," the paper said citing an unnamed source in the Russian space industry.

"Experts do not dismiss the possibility that the probe could have accidentally come under the impact of emissions [from a U.S. radar stationed on the Marshall Islands], whose megawatt impulse triggered the malfunctioning of on-board electronics," the source said.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-18-2012 01:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Even Russian scientists have dismissed the U.S. radar theory.
"Consider the power of the impact. I don't think the Americans have radars capable of ensuring such power at such an altitude [about 200 kilometers]," said Alexander Zakharov of the Russian Academy of Sciences Space Research Institute, where the Phobos equipment and research program were developed.

He suggested the theory was just a blind to cover up some people's mistakes.

"I simply think that is disingenuous. It is convenient to find the cause of the failure on the outside," he said, adding that "external impact hypotheses" were "far-fetched."

"The spacecraft itself should be examined first. There are problems there," he said.

A much likely cause of the failure was reported by Anatoly Zak, citing the online forum of the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine.
The most likely culprit in the failure of the probe's propulsion unit to ignite soon after it had entered orbit on November 9 was a programming error in the flight control system. Post-failure tests (apparently simulating in-flight conditions) revealed that in 90 percent of cases, the processor of the main flight control computer onboard the spacecraft would be overloaded. It could easily lead to crashes and rebooting as more systems were being activated after the spacecraft had left the range of Russian ground control stations after reaching orbit. Among those systems were star trackers (used for attitude control in the shadow of the Earth) and a Chinese satellite. In the meantime, the power supply system onboard the spacecraft worked flawlessly.

Following the initial failure, as ground controllers apparently succeeded in activating the X-band transmitter onboard the spacecraft, new problems arose. The device would transmit a signal with a power of around 40 watts, however its own operation would consume around 200 watts. The deactivation of the transmitter was not taking place when the spacecraft was flying in the shadow of the Earth for prolonged periods of time. As a result, the probe slowly drained its recharable power batteries and then its emergency power source KhIT, leading to a complete deactivation of onboard systems on November 28, 2011.

David Carey
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posted 02-23-2012 12:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for David Carey   Click Here to Email David Carey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This IEEE article provides a rather interesting - though still inconclusive - look at the veracity of memory-upset (radiation) events as the claimed source of mission failure.

Poor device selection/specification, last-minute hardware modifications, and on-pad software patches all paint a rather complex but troubling picture of program management.

Even if the official explanation is found to correctly pinpoint the root cause of failure, the use of memory chips not suitable for long-term space applications (mil-spec, but not rad-hard) strikes me as a rather jaw-dropping oversight.

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