Louis D. FriedmanOct 14, 2010

Update from the First Moscow Solar System Symposium

by Louis D. Friedman

This week, I am attending the First Moscow Solar System Symposium. Its focus is mostly on Phobos science and the plans for next year's Phobos Sample Return Mission (PhSRM), on which The Planetary Society will be flying the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment. The PhSRM will also carry a Chinese Mars Orbiter, Yinghuo-1: the first interplanetary spacecraft of China.

Yinghuo is the ancient Chinese name for Mars: Ying means red (as in Red Planet), Huo means unpredictable (as in unable to predict the path in the sky). Yinghuo-1 will be inserted into a highly elliptical orbit about Mars measuring 800 x 80000 km, with an inclination below 30 degrees. It will primarily conduct measurements of the Mars space environment with the solar wind, magnetosphere, plasma sheath, and bow shock.

The spacecraft has four instruments: magnetometer, plasma analyzer, free energy electron instrument, and cameras. It also will conduct a novel two-spacecraft occultation experiment with the PhSRM spacecraft. Radio signals between the two spacecraft will be transmitted through the Martian atmosphere. Russia and China will cooperate on the mission operations and on the science measurements.

Although most of the meeting was devoted to Phobos, Space Research Institute (IKI) scientists discussed Russian plans for lunar missions. The Lunar Glob (meaning Global) mission scheduled for 2012 now consists of an orbiter and lander. Penetrators, which had been discussed for this mission, have been dropped from consideration.

In 2013, the Russians will send an identical lander with an Indian mini-rover on the Indian Chandrayaan-2 mission. They have selected the payload for their landers, which include a large drilling system. The Russians described a four mission plan leading to another lunakhod and automated lunar sample return, as they did 38 years ago.

Everything depends (in my opinion) on PhSRM. It has been many years since the Russians have conducted a planetary mission (the last one was also to Phobos in 1988-89). If they come back strong with the PhSRM, and with a radio astronomy satellite they also plan to launch next year, then indeed they will be space science players once again.

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