Wednesday, 22 August 2007

A mission to Phobos: Fobos-Grunt

Apart from the well known Mars Exploration Rovers, the current Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the soon to arrive Phoenix Mars Lander, and ESA's Mars Express, and the various planned future Mars missions (even non-governmental ones, like the Archimedes balloon probe i mentioned earlier, apart from all those, there is also a plan to (re)visit a Martian moon, Phobos.

Russia, after having a lot of bad luck with Mars, planned a double Phobos mission in 1988. One of the two spacecraft did eventually reach Phobos, but then fell silent (the computers went wrong, likely because of insufficient shielding of the electronics). In 1989, money ran out, and all subsequent plans were shelved (except from a failed launch in 1996).

An image of Phobos and Mars, taken by Fobos-2 in 1989

Now it seems that new plans are on the drawing board again, with probably (hopefully) serious political backing. The new Phobos mission is called Фобос-Грунт (Fobos-Grunt, meaning "Phobos Soil"). As the name indicates, the spacecraft is intended to land on this tiny moon, take soil samples, and return the samples to Earth.

More interesting than words and numbers, the following video shows most of the details - it's quite easy to get even if you don't speak russian:

The project seems to be quite ambitious, given they had only one interplanetary probe in the last 18 years (and that was also destroyed after launch). However, if there's a chance that even a part of this mission will come true, it's already good news to any space enthusiast.

And there's more: nowadays Mars seems to be such a magnet for research that China also jumped on the bandwagon, and signed a deal with Russia, that they can include their own micro-probe on Fobos-Grunt. The Yinghuo-1 (萤火一号, named after Mars) spacecraft will be about 100 kg. It's going to be an orbiter with simple capabilities: taking pictures of the planet and making magnetic measurements.The next launch window will be in October 2009, so work should be already in progress, and probably we'll soon get some more infos...


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