The Mars Express orbital station is due to perform an almost tangential flight 58km away from Phobos. Last year the station passed the satellite at a distance of 100km. The repeated manoeuvre is meant to obtain more exact data about this satellite of Mars, such as high resolution photos that are required for a future expedition with the aim of delivering samples of its soil to Earth. It is not clear yet how Europeans would manage to fulfil this project. In 2009 NASA was planned to be their main partner. After that a financial crisis broke out in Europe and NASA withdrew from many joint Mars projects.
Russia had a similar project, Phobos Grunt. Even though it was not implemented, now it would be logical to unite the efforts of the ESA and Russia in the Phobos mission, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics Yuri Karash believes.
“Russia has accumulated vast experience in making space vehicles for performing the task of landing on Phobos, taking samples of its soil and returning to Earth. We have some engineering results of the previous mission that could be used.”
This idea is already being discussed, editor-in-chief of the Aviapanorama magazine Sergey Filippenkov confirms.
“If our partners are interested in Russia’s potential the second mission is likely to be organized in 2020. In this case the Lavochkin Research and Production Association is prepared to repeat such a flight on a new basis, taking into consideration the failure of Phobos Grunt.”
On the basis of data delivered by the Mars Express station it is planned to draw a map of the distribution of minerals, especially water-containing rocks, on the surface of Mars by June this year. This would be a joint ESA-Russian project. The first stage is due to start in 2016. The Russian Proton carrier rocket would take a robotic probe to Mars. Its landing site would be determined with the help of the map of minerals distribution. Similar maps could be available in NASA but the ESA does not intend to use them.
Another task that the ESA is planning to perform this year is entering the atmosphere of Venus. In 2006 the Venus Express station approached that planet but was short of fuel to decelerate in the flight. As a result, it remained in the elongated orbit. Now it is due to be transferred to a low circular orbit so that it could carry out more detailed observation of Venus clouds.
Guests of The Voice of Russia stress that the tasks planned by the ESA this year would not require a great expense for designing and manufacturing new interplanetary stations because everything would be made by vehicles that are already in orbits.