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10 Jan, 2012 10:49

Shady side of Earth: Western trace in space probe’s failure?

Doomed Martian probe Phobos-Grunt, which was due to fulfill a Russian mission on one of the Red Planet’s moons, might have been a target of external influence. The probe failed while flying over the western hemisphere, outside of Russia’s control.

In an interview to the Russian newspaper Izvestia, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, said that intended influence on the probe cannot be completely excluded. ”I do not want to blame anyone, but these days there are very powerful means to influence space vehicles,” he told the newspaper, adding that it is still unclear why the probe’s engine failed to start in the first place. The official also made a more generic allegation on possible reasons behind the accident with the probe station. “We do not understand frequent failures of our space vehicles when they fly over the shadow, for Russia, part of the Earth,” Popovkin said. “Right there we are unable to see the vehicle and to receive its telemetry.” Previously, reports emerged claiming that the probe station may have been influenced by powerful American radars in Alaska, which the vehicle was passing.   Popovkin confirmed, however, that the probe was possibly doomed from the moment it was launched into space. The official said that the project was created in the conditions of the limited funds and employed risky technological decisions.  “Besides, the probe had been created for a very long time and expiration dates for some parts had been nearing,” he said. “If we had not sent it to Mars in 2011, we would have had to throw it away, writing off expenditures of five billion rubles.”Russian interplanetary space station Phobos-Grunt, aimed at collection of earth samples from the Martian satellite of Phobos, was launched on November 9 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The mission was supposed to last for two-and-a-half years but aborted shortly and unexpectedly with engine failure.  After the rocket carrier separated from the station, its engines failed to fire to take it onto the high orbit so it could eventually gear off for Mars. The vehicle is still floating in the Earth orbit and expected to fall in the coming days, presumably on January 15.