(AP) — The European Space Agency has received the first signal from an
unmanned Russian spacecraft bound for a moon of Mars since it got stuck
in Earth’s orbit two weeks ago, officials said Wednesday, raising hope
the mission might be saved.
space agency said an ESA tracking facility in Australia got the signal
from the Phobos-Ground probe early Wednesday in the western city of
teams of flight dynamics technicians, who calculate the orbits, and the
operational center staff, who actually send up the signal, had been
helping to try to communicate with the Russian probe for the past 10
days, said Bernhard von Weyhe a spokesman for ESA, based at its
operational headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany.
said in a statement that Russian and European space experts will
coordinate further attempts to contact the probe. Weyhe said the next
try would occur later Wednesday when the spacecraft is expected to pass
over the satellite dishes in Australia.
said that technicians in Perth used a little side antenna rigged with a
cone to send up a wide, but weak, signal—only 3 W—to the probe. The
strength resembled a signal that would be used to communicate with the
craft once it reaches deep space, which is what it was programmed for.
“We did it as if the probe was on Mars, not only 200 to 340 kilometers (125 to 210 miles) away from Earth,” Weyhe said.
$170 million craft became stranded in orbit after its thrusters failed
to fire following the Nov. 9 launch to send it on its path to one of
Mars’ two moons, Phobos. The initial contact raised hopes of preventing
the probe from crashing back to Earth.
said the contact could be the first step in restablizing the mission,
but underlined that the European Space Agency is only offering support
to the Russians, who would have to decide the mission’s future.
“It’s up to the Russians to say what they will do,” Weyhe said.
deputy chief, Vitaly Davydov, said Tuesday that space experts will keep
trying until the end of the month to fix the probe and steer it to its
designated flight path. If they fail, the craft could plummet to Earth
some time between late December and late February, he warned, adding
that the site of the crash cannot be established more than a day in
spacecraft weighs 13.2 metric tons (14.6 tons) with a highly toxic
rocket fuel accounting for most of its weight. There have been concerns
the fuel could freeze and spill on impact, although most experts believe
it will likely stay liquid and burn up on re-entry.
Eddy reported from Berlin.
SOURCE: The Associated Press