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24 Jul, 2014 07:22

​Russian gecko satellite unresponsive in transit orbit

​Russian gecko satellite unresponsive in transit orbit

The Russian space agency Roscosmos is struggling to re-establish contact with the Foton-M satellite, launched last Saturday. The spacecraft is not responding to commands from the ground, probably indicating mission failure.

The satellite is currently in low-earth orbit and broadcasting a telemetry signal, but it’s not responding to orders from mission control. This has already prevented the firing of the spacecraft’s engine as planned, which would bring it to a higher and permanent orbit.

"The experts are currently working to restore the transmission of commands aboard the satellite,” Russia’s space agency Roskosmos said.

According to the Mission Control Center, the Foton-M is currently in orbit, revolving around Earth in 92.58 minutes, with a minimum height (perigee) of 258.12 km and maximum height (apogee) of 571.68 km.

The engineers on the ground say they are not time-constrained in bringing the unruly satellite under control.

“Results of the analysis show that the service systems of the spacecraft are functioning in full concordance with the control system logic. The design and the instrumentation allow for a prolonged autonomous functioning of the spacecraft,” a spokesperson for Progress, the builder of the satellite, told Itar-Tass.

Foton-M was scheduled to be lifted to a higher orbit on Wednesday, according to mission control. Communication problems emerged shortly post launch, after it had circled earth several times.

Hope remains that the mission can still be salvaged. The previous stage of the flight, which involved rebooting the satellite’s systems and beginning some of its scientific experiments have been carried out as planned.

“The biological experiment program started right after the spacecraft was launched. The equipment involved in the biologic experiments is in full working order,” assured Oleg Voloshin, spokesman for the Institute of Biomedical Problems, which developed the experiments.

The satellite is the fifth of its kind launched by Russia, although the latest version had a number of modifications compared to the previous one. It carries equipment for 22 diverse experiments.

Among them are containers with living organisms, including five geckos, fruit flies and fungi, which are supposed to be jettisoned after two months in orbit and land in Russia. There is no update on the status of the living cargo, since the containers are not designed to broadcast any telemetry while in space.

Containers with biological experiment equipment being loaded into the Foton-M satellite. Photo by the Institute for Biomedical Problems (Image from imbp.ru)