The Russian Phobos-Grunt probe, stranded in orbit around the Earth, has finally made contact with Earth.
The European Space Agency’s tracking station in Perth, Australia, picked up a signal from the probe at 20:25 GMT yesterday, raising a glimmer of hope that the mission could still resume (ESA).
Phobos-Grunt is meant to travel to Mars and then land on its small moon Phobos, where it would pick up a soil sample and return it to Earth (see Russia takes aim at Phobos).
Although the probe launched successfully on 8 November from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan, it became trapped in orbit after a second rocket did not fire.
The likely failure of the mission could set the Russian space programme back a generation (see Russia gets the red planet blues).
As the BBC points out:
The best scenario is that the issues are related to a software anomaly, and that engineers can then upload new commands. But if the fault lies in a hardware malfunction, Phobos-Grunt may still be beyond hope.
As Universe Today notes, it is now too late for Phobos-Grunt to complete a sample return mission, but it could still make a one-way trip to Mars if the problems can be resolved in the next few weeks.
The probe is also carrying China’s first Mars mission, dubbed Yinghuo-1. But this is a minor blip for the nation, which is developing its space programme so rapidly that it will increasingly be able to develop and launch its probes without needing to partner with other nations (see China forges ahead in space).
Image: RIA Novosti