It appears that Phobos-Grunt was doomed before it launched on November 9, 2011. Cheap parts, design shortcomings, and lack of pre-flight testing ensured that the spacecraft would never fulfill its goals.
Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, has released its official report concerning the failure of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which fell back to Earth from orbit on January 15 after failing to ignite the engines that were to take it to the largest Martian moon.
Phobos-Grunt has returned to Earth, a lot sooner than it should have. Yesterday, at approximately 17:45 UT, the Russian spacecraft and its passengers, including a Chinese orbiter and the Planetary Society's LIFE experiment, descended into Earth's atmosphere.
I'm not looking forward to spending the weekend sitting deathwatch on Phobos-Grunt. It's not science, and it's a sad event, so my instincts would lead me to other subjects. But it contains the Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE experiment.
We explore space for the noblest goals of science and exploration, and we often persevere in spite of challenges. But space exploration is fraught with bad things happening, or, to use the technical term, ouchies. The Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE biomodule will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in the next few days with the rest of the Phobos-Grunt mission.
It's the best of times for Mars exploration because we've got three orbiters and a rover studying the Red Planet. It's also the worst of times for my Russian, European, and Chinese colleagues who were part of the Phobos-Grunt mission.
I said I wasn't going to post again unless the spacecraft talked to us, but I changed my mind because finally there were official comments today about the status of the mission from Roskosmos head Vladimir Popovkin.
I am ecstatic to report that at 20:16 UTC, millions of passengers on board the Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE biomodule launched into space inside the Phobos Sample Return (also known as Phobos Grunt or Phobos Soil) spacecraft.
Russia's Phobos-Grunt sample return spacecraft, carrying the Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE experiment, plus China's Yinghuo-1 Mars minisatellite, are poised for launch at Baikonur! The launch window opens in less than six hours, at 20:16 UTC.
About a week after Curiosity passed through the same milestone, Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 -- still slated for a November 8 launch -- were encapsulated in their payload fairing in preparation for being stacked on their rocket. And, of course, our little Phobos LIFE capsule is inside there too!