Russia's stranded Mars probe gives 'first sign of life': ESA

23rd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which has been stranded in orbit since launch on November 8, has sent "a first sign of life" to a tracking station in western Australia, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Wednesday.

Contact with the probe was made on Tuesday at 2025 GMT at an ESA ground station in Perth, the agency said on its website.

"ESA teams are working closely with engineers in Russia to determine how best to maintain communication with the spacecraft," it said.

A spokesman at European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, told AFP: "We sent an instruction to (the probe) to switch on its transmitter and the probe sent us telemetric data.

"However, we do not have all the details and we are not very sure of what we received. It's a first sign of life," he said.

The probe is in a "very low, very unfavourable orbit (that) is difficult to identify accurately," the spokesman added.

The task is being complicated by very narrow windows, "of between five and 10 minutes," for communication, he explained.

The five-billion-ruble ($165-million) mission is one of the most ambitious in the history of Martian exploration.

It is designed to travel to the Martian moon of Phobos, scoop up soil and return the sample to Earth by 2014.

But mission control lost radio contact with the craft hours after launch, leaving engineers without telemetry data to figure out where it was.

On Tuesday, Russia's space agency had said it saw "little chance" of saving the 13.5-tonne vessel.

In Moscow, the Russian space agency Roskosmos confirmed the report.

It said the Perth station had received a radio signal from Phobos-Grunt during a scheduled monitoring period and European and Russian were "appraising the situation."

© 2011 AFP

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