Russian Phobos probe

What went Wrong with the Russian Space Probe Launch

Russian Phobos probe
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"What went Wrong with the Russian Space Probe Launch"
Caption: Russian Phobos probe
Image by: Wikimedia Commons/OS2Warp
© Wikimedia Commons/OS2Warp

Russian experts are trying to blame the United States for its recent failed launch of a space probe. Rather than blaming its scientists and manufacturers for producing a flawed design, investigators now point their fingers at interference from a U.S. radar installation on the Marshall Islands as the cause of the loss. 


A space probe targeted for a landing on a moon orbiting Mars was intended to re-assert Russia into the international space race, but it ended up being a testimony to Russian frustration as the nation tries to re-ignite the vestiges of its Soviet past. 

Experts say a booster rocket needed to send the satellite into orbit failed to ignite, causing it to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. A disappointing end to what was to have been a glorious moment in Russian space lure; the failure could have implications for the company that produced it. 

Roskosmos, a government-controlled space agency, is under severe pressure to prove its mettle after a year-long pattern of embarrassing and costly failures in the Russian space effort. With yet another failure on its hands, the agency is looking to defer responsibility. In communist countries like Russia, the penalty for embarrassing the government could involve imprisonment, torture and hard labor, so understanding why officials would blame the U.S. is easy. 

Investigation Under Way

According to the UK Telegraph, Russian officials are already tracking officials that might be culpable for the Phobos-Grunt disaster. Described as “full-scale,” the effort seems poised to unearth competency problems in the Russian space bureaucracy, leading to the issuance of some one-way tickets to Siberia.

Russian authorities seem skeptical of the space officials that ascribe blame for the incident to American radar systems. However, a Russian newspaper has quoted an anonymous rocket expert as saying that radar interference from the Marshall Islands could have unintentionally knocked the Russian rocket out of commission. 

An Embarrassing Charade

As mentioned in the Telegraph story, Roskosmos is planning a costly replication of the Mars probe’s disaster in an effort to free itself of responsibility for the incident. The agency is said to have plans to expose a similar space probe to radar emissions that will supposedly emulate the U.S. radar on the Marshall Islands. 

Alternate Theories

Even if the supposed follow-up tests fail to show a connection between the space probe’s failure and radar, Roskosmos officials have some backup stories. Already, the agency’s head has suggested that the work may have been the result of sabotage perpetrated by unknown forces.

More about this author: Bruce Tyson

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