Russian specialists have deciphered telemetry data received from a wayward Mars probe, but have yet to find out the cause of its erratic behavior, a space industry source said on Thursday.
“Some data” on the spacecraft’s condition were obtained, but it was not yet clear how “functional” it was, the source said.
Earlier in the day, a Russian space station in Kazakhstan’s Baikonur received a signal from the Phobos-Grunt, which has been stuck at a low-Earth orbit since after its launch.
The Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) said attempts to get in contact with the spacecraft would continue until it enters “the thicker layers of the atmosphere.”
Phobos-Grunt is expected to fall to Earth sometime in March.
Telemetry data received from the probe on Wednesday night by the European Space Agency (ESA) was impossible to decipher.
The fact of the data transmission demonstrated that the unit is “alive” and powered but it is impossible to say anything about the status of the onboard control system, experts said.
Experts say the Mars mission has failed because the last “window of opportunity” for sending the probe to Mars closed on Monday. However, telemetric data from the spacecraft could help identify the causes of the failure and make adjustments for future interplanetary missions.
The probe was launched on November 9, but its engines failed to put it on course for the Red Planet. The craft, designed to bring back rock and soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos, is currently moving along a so-called support orbit.
According to NASA, Russia has failed in all of its 17 attempts to study the Red Planet close-up since 1960. The most recent failure before this month occurred in 1996, when Russia lost its Mars-96 orbiter during launch.