A Russian government commission inquiring into why the Phobos-Grunt Mars probe crashed this week is to test whether it was affected after launch by U.S. radars on its second orbit around the Earth, the commission said on Tuesday.
The investigators said that they would stage an experiment where a model Phobos will be subjected to radiation similar to that from U.S. radars.
“The results of the experiment will allow us to prove or dismiss the possibility of the radars’ impact,” said Commission head Yury Koptev, the former head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also said on Tuesday that the loss of the probe could have been caused by the U.S. radar’s activity.
The current Roscosmos head, Vladimir Popovkin previously said that that the inexplicable malfunction of the Russian spacecraft could have been caused by “interference from a foreign technical facility.”
“Experts do not dismiss the possibility that the probe could have accidentally come under the impact of emissions [from a U.S. radar stationed on the Marshall Islands], whose megawatt impulse triggered the malfunctioning of on-board electronics,” Russian business daily, Kommersant, said on Tuesday, citing an unnamed source in the country’s space industry as saying.
The source did not specify the type of radar, but said it was monitoring the trajectory of an asteroid at the time of the Phobos-Grunt launch.
It was more likely an accident rather than a determined act of sabotage, the source told the Kommersant.
The investigators are considering several causes of the failure, including a short circuit or “external impact.” They are expected to inform the Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin of the preliminary results of the investigation on January 20. The official results will be made public on January 26, Kommersant said.
Phobos-Grunt, launched on November 9, was designed to bring back rock and soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos. However, it got stuck in a so-called support orbit after its engines had failed to put it on course for the Red Planet, and fell back on Earth late on Sunday.
According to NASA, Russia has failed in all 17 of its attempts to study the Red Planet close-up since 1960. The most recent failure before November accident occurred in 1996, when Russia lost its Mars-96 orbiter during launch.