A powerful solar flare likely caused the spectacular failure of the Russian Federation's bold space mission Fobos-Grunt (in English, "Phobos-Soil").
That's the conclusion of a panel of space scientists working with an interministerial committee charged with determining why the spacecraft failed in Earth orbit before plunging out-of-control into the atmosphere and meeting a fiery end.
The report was given to Roscosmos, Russia's space agency.
Shortly after the initial findings a conspiratorial theory emerged among some groups in Russia accusing the American facility known as HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) was responsible for interfering with the rocket causing a major malfunction. Other Russian scientists speculated that a powerful American radar facility in the Pacific disrupted communications with the spacecraft.
Some theorized that the American government and NASA were concerned the Grunt Mars mission to Phobos might prove that a mysterious object dubbed "the monolith" on the surface of one of the Red Planet's two moon—Phobos—was artificial and of alien origin. Former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin believes the Phobos monolith is artificial, as do some Russian astrophysicists.
American authorities vigorously denied the conjecture and the accusation.
Fobos-Grunt failure massive disappointment
The failure of Russia's ambitious space mission disappointed scientists around the world.
The mission—touted as one of Russia's boldest and most imaginative—was designed to carry out a multiplicity of tasks including mapping the Martian moon using a high-resolution camera, and working in tandem with the Chinese Yinghuo-1 orbiter, conducting a myriad of scientific experiments and data gathering projects.
Fobos-Grunt also carried the Soil Offloading and Preparation System (SOPSYS - link see page six) for analysis of the soil on Phobos during a landing mission. SOPSYS was engineered by geologists at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Many other experiments were also planned utilizing a wide array of scientific instruments crammed into the space mission's profile.
X-class solar flare likely caused mission failure
Studying the environment affecting the rocket at the time the it orbited the Earth, the committee concluded that a massively strong plasma cloud of super-charged particles compromised the delicate electronics in the heart of the spacecraft.
Russia launched the probe using a Zenit-2 booster on November 9, just five days after a massive X-flare exploded from the surface of the sun headed directly for Earth. The abnormally large CME (coronal mass ejection) bombarded the Earth causing intense geomagnetic storms that stretched on for several weeks.
The Russian rocket, and delicate Fobos-Grunt probe, were not shielded from the onslaught of high energy particles and waves of surging radiation.
Some Russian scientists disagree
According to Onet, a Polish news site, several Russian scientists have challenged the committee's report that powerful geomagnetic storms ruined the ambitious mission.
The chief scientist of the Institute of Earth Magnetism, Ionosphere and Radio Wave Propagation (Izmiran), Marat Skonstatowal Deminov, insists that plasma of that nature only affected certain altitudes and are normally unable to interfere with a spacecraft's electronics in any significant way.
Onet also reports that Sergei Gaidash, the head of Izmiran's space weather department stated: "Solar activity had no effect on the probe and the weather on the day of launch probe was normal."
Despite the objections, Roscosmos has officially accepted the committee's findings as the probable cause of the loss.