Russian Mars’ Moon Probe Drama – UPDATED 11/14/2011

The Russian Mars’ moon probe Fobos-Grunt (Russian for “Phobos-Ground”) was launched yesterday. It was meant to take a tiny sample of the Martian moon Phobos, which would have been the first sample taken from an interplanetary body since 1976. However, it failed to make its planned trajectory towards Mars and is now stuck in Earth’s orbit. Russian engineers are attempting to rescue the probe by planning a series of burns and by resetting its computer system. 

Space buffs are worried that the probe may crash back to Earth, potentially unleashing toxic fuel. According to an AP report, a U.S. expert said the probe “could become the most dangerous man made object ever to hit the planet.” A more detailed report can be found on

Apparently the spacecraft’s orientation system experienced failures, which is why the probe is stuck in Earth’s orbit. Hopefully if the spacecraft does have to be deorbited, it can somehow be steered somewhere over the ocean away from land, similar to what happened when the U.S. satellite UARS deorbited earlier this fall. Famed space writer and NASA veteran James Oberg condemned Fobos-Grunt by saying, “The go-for-broke nature of this mission, aiming for the first Russian deep space success in a quarter century, always looked awfully bold, and now looks just plain reckless – whatever happens next.” 

Stay informed about this latest space event by checking back with This Space Available; I will be providing updates. 
UPDATE 11/12/2011 – The latest news about Fobos-Grunt is not good as ground controllers have failed to reestablish communications with the space probe. Also, its orbit has dropped. Thanks to my friend Trent for sending me this update.  
UPDATE 11/13/2011 – Fobos-Grunt is officially considered lost. Stay informed for possible reentry information through This Space Available over the next few days.  

UPDATE 11/14/2011 – According to this link from the Planetary Society’s blog, all is apparently not lost according to Roskosmos, the Russian space agency. So yeah, keep checking back here…

Emily Carney is a writer, space enthusiast, and creator of the This Space Available space blog, published since 2010. In January 2019, Emily’s This Space Available blog was incorporated into the National Space Society’s blog. The content of Emily’s blog can be accessed via the This Space Available blog category.

Note: The views expressed in This Space Available are those of the author and should not be considered as representing the positions or views of the National Space Society.


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