Evidence of Life On Mars Could Come from Martian Moon Phobos

The image shows the orbits of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and the spread of potential particle trajectories from an asteroid impact on Mars. (Credit: Purdue University image/courtesy of Loic Chappaz)

A mission to a Martian moon could return with alien life, according to experts at Purdue University, but don’t expect the invasion scenario presented by summer blockbusters like “Men in Black 3” or “Prometheus.”
“We are talking little green microbes, not little green men,” said Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and physics and aerospace engineering at Purdue. “A sample from the moon Phobos, which is much easier to reach than the Red Planet itself, would almost surely contain Martian material blasted off from large asteroid impacts. If life on Mars exists or existed within the last 10 million years, a mission to Phobos could yield our first evidence of life beyond Earth.”…..
Read more: /www.sciencedaily.com

Phobos-Grunt Mars probe will crash to Earth on Sunday

London and New York are in the huge area where Russian spacecraft might land, but it is most likely to ditch in the sea

A defunct Russian spacecraft is due to re-enter the atmosphere sometime after midday (GMT) on Sunday, say scientists who are watching its orbit closely.

They cannot predict precisely where it will hit the Earth, but say the most likely scenario is that it will splash down in the ocean. However, most of the world’s major cities, including London and New York, are potentially in the firing line.

At a briefing at the Science Media Centre in London on Thursday, Richard Crowther, chief engineer at the UK Space Agency, said he was not unduly concerned by the return of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft.

“It certainly doesn’t keep me awake at night worrying about the possibility of space debris coming through my roof,” he said. “If you look at the Earth from space, it’s mostly water. If you look at the land masses, most of the populations are concentrated around the coasts or in certain regions.

“It’s no surprise that we don’t see these re-entries occurring, even though they occur on a daily basis, because it happens mostly in the oceans or at night-time or under clouds.”

The spacecraft’s current flightpath will bring it down somewhere between 51.4° north and south of the equator – south of the latitude of Watford in the UK and Calgary in Canada, and north of the Falkland Islands….
Read more: www.guardian.co.uk

Video: Phobos Grunt on New Year’s Day

Video of a passage of Phobos-Grunt over France on January 1st 2012, at a distance of 237 km. The satellite is moving from left to right and the Sun is on the right, the consequence being that the solar panels (on the left) do not receive sunlight. More details and interpretation on http://legault.perso.sfr.fr/phobos-grunt.html .
Credit : Thierry Legault & Emmanuel Rietsch


Read also: Doomed Russian Mars probe seen from the ground

Parts of stricken Mars probe Phobos-Grunt may strike Earth

Russian space agency Roscosmos says 200kg fragments may survive re-entry but expects toxic fuel to vaporise

A Russian spacecraft that became stranded in orbit on the way to Mars last year is expected to fall back to Earth next week.

The 13.5 tonne Phobos-Grunt has been circling Earth since November when rocket boosters failed to ignite and send the spaceship on its journey to the Martian moon of Phobos. The spacecraft suffered a computer malfunction after launch and when repeated attempts to contact the rocket failed, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, had to abandon the mission.

Officials at Roscosmos admitted that 20 to 30 fragments of Phobos-Grunt, weighing a total of 200kg, might hit the Earth. Among the most likely parts to survive are the cone-shaped sample return capsule that is protected with a heat shield. The capsule was designed to survive a crash landing without a parachute.

Any components that are not vaporised during re-entry are likely to fall into the ocean or land in sparsely populated areas.

The spacecraft, the largest planetary rocket ever built by Russia, was designed to return rock samples from Phobos, the first time material would have been brought back from the moon of another planet. The rocket was to deliver a Chinese Mars orbiter and carried containers of bacteria to test their survival in space.

Space agencies tracking the rocket from radar stations around the world have stepped up their monitoring to once every day. As the spacecraft nears re-entry, officials will track its descent hour by hour to improve predictions of where any debris might land……
Read more: www.guardian.co.uk

Orbit-raising commands fail to budge Phobos-Grunt probe

Artist's concept of the Phobos-Grunt lander at Mars.Credit: Roscosmos

Plagued by an undiagnosed problem that stranded it in Earth orbit, Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Mars mission remained quiet Tuesday after renewed attempts to coax the craft back into contact with ground controllers.
European Space Agency officials transmitted signals to raise Phobos-Grunt’s orbit Tuesday in hopes it would allow greater communications opportunities at a higher altitude, according to the agency’s Twitter page.

The ploy didn’t work, and the probe remains in a low-altitude orbit less than 200 miles above Earth.

Outfitted with a feedhorn antenna designed to attenuate the power of its radio signals, ESA’s Perth ground station heard signals from Phobos-Grunt twice last week.

Perth’s 49-foot dish antenna received limited telemetry from the spacecraft. ESA passed the data to engineers with NPO Lavochkin, the probe’s prime contractor.

Details on communications attempts have come exclusively from ESA. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has not released an update on Phobos-Grunt since Nov. 24.

The Perth facility only has between six and eight minutes each time Phobos-Grunt flies overhead in sight of the station, providing limited windows for transmitting commands and receiving data.

Officials hoped raising the craft’s orbit would lengthen communications passes and give engineers a better chance of recovering the mission, but the commands didn’t work Tuesday.

ESA said Russia requested more orbit-raising commands to be transmitted Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The outcome of those attempts will be known later Wednesday.

Engineers are adding a feedhorn antenna to ESA’s tracking site at Maspalomas in the Canary Islands. The feedhorn device was added to ground stations to reduce the power of signal transmissions because Phobos-Grunt’s computers may think the craft is on the way to Mars, when radio signals from Earth would be weaker than in orbit.

Phobos-Grunt was designed to release a Chinese orbiter around Mars, then touch down on the Red Planet’s rocky moon Phobos and collect samples. It carries a return vehicle to shepherd the soil of Phobos back to Earth for analysis.

Phobos-Grunt has been stuck in its low-altitude orbit since liftoff Nov. 8. A rocket pack attached to the spacecraft was supposed to fire twice to accelerate the probe toward Mars, but neither firing occurred as planned in the hours after launch.

Without data to assess the 29,000-pound craft’s health, Russian engineers were left in the dark about why the burns failed. Russia enlisted help from ESA and NASA to contact the probe, but NASA’s deep space antenna in Goldstone, Calif., never received a signal.

NASA’s deep space network stopped listening for Phobos-Grunt on Tuesday to prepare for Saturday’s launch of the Mars Science Laboratory.

Because Phobos-Grunt’s altitude is so low, experts say the fuel-laden craft will succumb to the affects of drag and fall back to Earth early next year. Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief orbital debris expert, said the re-entry may occur in late January or February, but a specific time period won’t be known until much later.

If Russia is unable to regain control of the spacecraft, it would plunge into the atmosphere uncontrolled with a full load of propellant.

Update on Phobos-Grunt: Might the LIFE Experiment be Recovered?


Editor’s note: With Russian engineers trying to save the Phobos-Grunt mission, Dr. David Warmflash, principal science lead for the US team from the LIFE experiment on board the spacecraft, provides an update of the likelihood of saving the mission, while offering the intriguing prospect that their experiment could possibly be recovered, even if the mission fails.

With the latest word from Roscosmos being that the Mars moon probe, Phobos-Grunt is “not officially lost,” but yet remains trapped in low Earth orbit, people are wondering what may happen over the next several weeks. Carried into space early Wednesday morning, November 9, Moscow time, atop a Zenit 2 rocket, Grunt, Russian for “soil”, entered what is known in space exploration as a parking orbit. After the engine of the Zenit upper stage completed its burn, it separated from another stage, known as Fregat, which now still remains attached to Phobos-Grunt. Ignition of the Fregat engine was to occur twice during the first five hours in space. The first Fregat burn would have taken the spacecraft to a much higher orbit; the second burn, about 2.5 hours later would have propelled the probe on its way to Mars and its larger moon, Phobos. From this moon, a sample of soil would be scooped into a special capsule which would return to Earth for recovery in 2014.

Grunt is still in a low orbit, because neither Fregat burn occurred. While the spacecraft is believed to be in safe mode and even has maneuvered such that its orbital altitude has increased, controllers have been unable to establish contact to send new commands. If communication cannot be established, it will re-enter the atmosphere.

In addition to the sample return capsule, Grunt carries an instrument package designated to remain on the Phobosian surface, plus a Chinese probe, Yinghuo-1, designed to orbit Mars. The mission also includes the Planetary Society’s Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE) , for which I serve as principal science lead of the US team. Carried inside the return capsule into which the Phobosian soil is to be deposited, LIFE consists of a discoid-shaped canister, a biomodule, weighing only 88 grams. Inside are 30 sample tubes carrying ten biological species, each in triplicate. Surrounded by the 30 tubes is a sample of soil with a mixed population of microorganisms, taken from the Negev desert in Israel to be analyzed by Russian microbiologists.
Organisms carried within the LIFE biomodule include members of all three domains of Earth life: bacteria, archaea, and eukaryota. The purpose of the experiment is to test how well the different species can endure the space environment, akin to microorganisms moving in space within a meteoroid ejected from Mars by an impact event. If organisms can remain viable within rock material that is transferred naturally from Mars to Earth, it would lend support to the Mars transpermia hypothesis –the idea that life on Earth may have began by way of a seeding event by early organisms from Mars.

The Planetary Society’s Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE) capsule, on board the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. Credit:The Planetary Society

We know of microorganisms that could survive the pressures and temperatures associated with the ejection itself. We also know that during atmospheric entry, only the most outer few millimeters of rocks are heated on their way to Earth; thus, anything alive in a rock’s interior at this point should still be alive when the rock hits Earth as a meteorite. If life forms also could survive the journey itself from Mars to Earth, a Martian origin for Earth’s life would be a major possibility. It also would mean that life originating on its own anywhere in the Cosmos could spread from each point of origin, thus increasing the number of living planets and moons that may exist.

Numerous studies of the survivability of many of the LIFE species have been conducted in low Earth orbit, but much of the challenge to life in space comes from highly energetic space radiation. A large portion of space radiation is trapped by a system of magnetic fields known as the Van Allen radiation belts, or the geomagnetosphere. Since very few controlled studies of microorganisms, plant seeds, and other life have been conducted beyond the Van Allen belts, which reach an altitude of about 60,000 kilometers (about 1/7th the distance to the Moon), the Planetary Society arranged to have the LIFE biomodule carried within Grunt’s return capsule.

Over last weekend, the spacecraft surprised everyone by maneuvering on its own, raising its orbit. Due to this, the estimated reentry date was moved back from late November to mid January, meaning that the LIFE biomodule will be in space for more than nine weeks. An intriguing possibility that looms as controllers consider how the mission might end is that the Grunt sample return capsule will break off from the rest of the craft intact. If this happens, it could assume the stable atmospheric entry, descent, and landing that were expected after the return from Phobos. If this happens and the capsule comes down on land, we could recover the LIFE biomodule and test the state of the organisms packaged within it. The result of yet another biological test in low orbit, it would not be the experiment of our dreams. But, amidst the loss of a mission into which so many engineers and scientists have invested their dreams, a little bit could mean a lot.

Read more: http://www.universetoday.com