Phobos-Grunt Readied for Launch
“Phobos-Grunt will launch on November 9, 2011 at 00:26 a.m. Moscow time,” said Alexey Kuznetsov, Head of the Roscosmos Press Office in an exclusive interview with Universe Today. Roscosmos is the Russian Federal Space Agency, equivalent to NASA and ESA.
“The launch window extends until November 25.”
“At this moment we are preparing the “Zenit-2SB” launch vehicle, the cruise propulsion system and the “Phobos Grunt” automatic interplanetary station at the Baikonur Cosmodrome,” Kuznetzov told me. Phobos-Grunt translates as Phobos-Soil.
China’s first ever mission to Mars, the Yinghuo-1 micro-satellite, is also encased inside the nose cone and is tucked in a truss segment between the lander and interplanetary propulsion stage.
Yinghuo-1 follows closely on the heels of China’s stunning success in demonstrating the nation’s first ever docking in space between two Chinese spacecraft earlier this week on November 3.
The payload fairing protects the Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 spacecraft during the first few minutes of flight from the intense frictional heating and buildup of aerodynamic pressures. After the rocket soars through the discernable atmosphere the fairing splits in half and is jettisoned and falls back to Earth.
The nose cone sports a beautiful mission logo painted on the side of the fairing along with the logos of various Russian and International partner agencies and science institutes.
Propellants have already been loaded about the cruise stage, Phobos-Grunt lander and Earth return vehicle.
“The Phobos Grunt automatic interplanetary station was built, prepared and tested at NPO Lavochkin [near Moscow]. They were also responsible for inspection of the devices, instruments and systems integration,” Kuzntezov explained.
Phobos-Grunt will blastoff from Launch Pad 45 at Baikonur,
Following an 11 month journey, the spaceship will enter Mars orbit in October 2012, spend several months investigating Phobos and then land around February 2013.
The goal is to snatch up to 200 grams of soil and rock from Phobos and fly them back to Earth in a small capsule set to plummet through the atmosphere in August 2014.
ESA, the European Space Agency, is assisting Russia determine a safe landing site by targeting their Mars Express Orbiter to collect high resolution images of Phobos. Look at 2-D and 3-D images and an animation here.
The regolith samples will help teach volumes about the origin and evolution of Phobos, Mars and the Solar System. Scientists would be delighted if miniscule bits of Martian soil were mixed in with Phobos soil.
Phobos-Grunt , Earth’s next mission to Mars, is equipped with an advanced 50 kg payload array of some 20 science instruments.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover was also enclosed in her payload fairing a few days ago and is on course for liftoff on November 25.