Andrew Osborn








Russia investigates theory US radars caused probe crash, 17th January 2012 16:08

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

Russia is investigating a theory that the humiliating failure of its Phobos-Grunt probe to one of Mars' moons last November was caused by inadvertent interference from a powerful battery of US radars located on the Marshall Islands.

The theory, which is for now only one of several, would be a convenient face-saving explanation for Roskosmos, Russia's equivalent to NASA, which has suffered a disastrous string of launch failures in the last twelve months.

The remains of the £103 million Phobos-Grunt probe were reported to have burned up somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on Sunday after its booster rocket failed to fire on schedule, meaning it never set off in the direction of Phobos, one of Mars' moons, and got stuck in low Earth orbit instead.

Russian space officials are facing a full-scale investigation into what went wrong and appear to have leaked the theory about the disaster inadvertently being America's fault to the daily Kommersant newspaper, which featured it prominently on Tuesday.

"The possibility that the probe coincidentally found itself in the radar's range and that its electronics went wrong after being affected by a megawatt impulse cannot be ruled out," an unnamed space industry source told the paper.

Yuri Koptev, the former head of Roskosmos, confirmed the controversial theory is being taken seriously.

"There is such a theory," he told the RIA-Novosti news agency.

"To test (the theory), an equipment block similar to the one on Phobos-Grunt will be exposed to radiation from possible unintentional exposure to American radars," he added.

"The results of the experiment will allow us to prove or dismiss the possibility of the radars' impact." It is not the first time Russia has suggested that the probe's failure may have been caused by factors beyond its control. Earlier this month, Vladimir Popovkin, the current head of Roskosmos, hinted that shadowy external forces may have been responsible.

Russia's space programme is struggling to restore its reputation after a succession of embarrassing launch failures. Last February, Moscow lost a strategically important military satellite, last August a giant communications satellite had to be written off after a disastrous launch, and in December a Russian satellite crashed into Siberia minutes after its launch due to rocket failure.