The stricken Russian Mars probe, Phobos-Grunt, may have fallen victim to U.S. military radars in Alaska, according to a retired Russian General.
Phobos-Grunt, launched on November 9, was to reach the Martian moon Phobos, pick up a sample of its soil, and return it to Earth. However, the craft's engines failed to fire as planned and the probe is stuck in a low-Earth support orbit. Russian space experts were at a loss what could have happened to the probe.
“We just do not understand what is going on up there,” said Vitaly Davydov, deputy head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos.
A top Russian missile defence commander suggested on Thursday that the U.S. military may be to blame for the probe's malfunction.
“The flight trajectory of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft crossed the coverage area of powerful American radars in Alaska,” General-Lieutenant Nikolai Rodionov, former commander of Russia's missile early-warning system, told the Interfax news wire. “I'm afraid the powerful electromagnetic radiation of those radars may have affected the control system of the interplanetary probe.”
The General was apparently referring to the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme (HAARP) site in Gakona, Alaska.
The facility's official mission is to study the ionosphere and its use for communication, but it is also said to have been part of U.S. President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative or the “Star Wars”. In 2002, Russian parliamentarians sought an international ban on HAARP-type geophysical experiments with high-frequency radio waves. Meanwhile, Russian specialists failed to decipher the first telemetric data that the stranded Phobos probe beamed back to Earth on Tuesday after a European Space Agency ground station in Australia sent an instruction for the spacecraft to switch on its transmitter. Some experts suggested that the signal was scrambled due to lack of compatibility between Russian and European communications equipment. Russian engineers will try to make the necessary adjustments before the next communication session.
Experts said it was too late to save the probe, but telemetric information may help determine the cause of its failure.