26 January 2012, 21:45

Was Phobos downed by the Sun or a technical flaw?

Was Phobos downed by the Sun or a technical flaw?

The fall of Russia’s Phobos space probe might have been caused by a  solar flare, an intergovernmental commission reported to the Roskosmos state agency on Thursday. However, some experts have offered other versions of the crash.

The fall of Russia’s Phobos space probe might have been caused by a  solar flare, an intergovernmental commission reported to the Roskosmos state agency on Thursday. However, some experts have offered other versions of the crash.

According to the commission, a cloud of plasma released during the November 4 solar flare remained active for the following 10 days and could have affected the probe’s launch. These experts believe that a technical or construction failure was unlikely to have caused the crash.

The 200-mln dollar satellite, which was intended to travel to the Mars moon of Phobos to collect soil samples, was launched on November 9 but became stuck in low-Earth orbit.  Fragments of the probe crashed into the Pacific Ocean on January 16.

Some think that the commission wasn’t quite objective in its conclusions and claim that geomagnetic activity on the orbit was normal during the launch and the solar flare wasn’t the decisive factor. The plasma version, according to them, is convenient for benefits officials who were in charge of the project.

The device wasn’t actually prepared for the flight but the easiest way was to blame the nature, believes an academician of Russia’s Tsiolkovsky Space Academy, Yuri Karash:

"One doesn’t need to be an Einstein or a Landau to know that plasma has no political preferences and can hardly be anti-Russian hitting Russian satellites while leaving foreign devices intact. A solar flare releases billions of tons of superhot gas whose particles get into outer space with only some of them reaching the Earth.  Such a gas cloud would exceed our planet in size many times and if it affected the orbit, it would affect any satellites moving in it."

Scientists are confident that the Phobos research project must be continued as it was pricey and effort-consuming.

A letter to this respect has been forwarded by  Russia’s Academy of Sciences to Roskosmos. The scientists believe that a new device can be built and launched by 2018  when the conditions for a Mars flight become more favorable .

The US, in turn, has refused to assist Russia in investigating the causes of the crash. Some suspected that the launch has been affected by American radars. This was not the main version put forward by experts  but Americans seemed to have taken offense.

However, several days ago the US confirmed the information available about the site of the fall.

Only when Phobos debris is found, it may cast light on the cause of the mission’s crash.

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