Phobos-Grunt prepares for launch

The Phobos-Grunt flight module can serve as a platform for future exploration

At MAKS-2011 air show NPO Lavochkin is showing a mock-up of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft which will take Russia back into the business of deep space exploration by returning soil samples from Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. This mission was initially scheduled for launch in 2009 but was postponed. In mid-July the head of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, announced the launch will take place in November.

The 13,200 kg Phobos-Grunt spacecraft has already been assembled. It consists of a 590 kg flight module with its own propulsion system, and a 215 kg return vehicle. They will be carried into orbit around Phobos by a Fregat spacecraft bus. According to the head of the Lavochkin planetary research center, Alexander Lukyanchikov, prior to its arrival at the cosmodrome the spacecraft will undergo a final round of trials to confirm its launch readiness.

Lukyanchikov highlights some key design features including the spacecraft’s main propulsion system with low-thrust engines and modern astro-measurement devices. A safe landing on Phobos will be provided through a TV navigation and guidance system, laser altimeter and Doppler velocimeter and hazemeter. Another innovation is a soil extraction device capable of working in zero-gravity conditions.

The Phobos-Grunt mission will last three years. After launch by a Zenith-2 rocket the spacecraft is expected to reach Mars orbit in September 2012. It will then spend several months studying the planet and its moons from space before landing on Phobos in February 2013. During several days on Phobos the spacecraft will collect 200 grams of soil samples and load them into the return vehicle. This return vehicle is expected to reach Earth in July 2014. The flight module will stay on the moon’s surface to continue research experiments for another year.

If the Phobos-Grunt mission is successful it will kick-start other similar programs. Lavochkin is working on Luna-Glob program aimed at studying the Moon. Its orbital module to be launched in 2014 will be based on the Phobos-Grunt flight module. Other programs based on Phobos-Grunt technology will include research missions to Mars (Mars-NET and Mars-Grunt), Venus (Venera-D) and Jupiter (Sokol La-Plas).

Maxim Pyadushkin

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