Phobos Grunt


Phobos Grunt was a Russian sample return mission to Phobos, a moon of Planet Mars. It was the first Russian interplanetary mission since the failed Mars 96 mission. Phobos-Grunt was launched on 8th November 2011 on a Zenit 2SB rocket. Unfortunately failed to leave Earth orbit.

Phobos Grunt

The $170 million craft was one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth.

The aim of the mission was:

  1. To collect soil samples from Phobos moon and return them to Earth for scientific research.
  2. In situ and remote studies of Phobos including analysis of soil samples.
  3. To study Planet Mars and its environment, including atmosphere and dust storms, plasma and radiation.

Phobos Grunt Picture - Russian sample return mission

The space mission development was led by Babakin Science and Research Space Centre (Lavochkin). Phobos soil sampling and downloading has been assigned to the GEOHI RAN Institute of the Russian Academy of Science (Vernadski Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical chemistry) and the integrated scientific studies of Phobos and Mars by remote and contact methods are being developed by the IKI RAN Institute (Space Research Institute).


The mission was called Phobos-Grunt – ‘grunt’ means ‘soil’ in Russian.


* Development started in 2001 and the preliminary design was completed in 2004.

* In August 2006, China announced that they would supply the survey equipment for the mission.

* In September 2006, Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency said that they were planning to sign a contract with China by the end of the year.

* The agreement (as of August 2007) included the Chinese Yinghuo-1 spacecraft being sent together to Mars with Phobos-Grunt on October, 2009.

Propulsion: Electric jet propulsion was considered for this mission.

* Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was launched on 8th November 2011 on a  Zenit 2SB rocket. Phobos-Grunt was scheduled to reach Mars September 2012. The Sample Return Vehicle was scheduled to reach Earth in August 2014.

*  Since launching into space on November 8, 2011 the spacecraft has been trapped in Earth orbit. ‎It crashed on Earth January 15, 2012. It was the 3rd uncontrolled re-entry of a big spacecraft in the last four months prior. NASA’s 6.5-ton UARS satellite came down in September 2011 and the 2.7-ton German satellite ROSAT followed one month later in October 2011.


Yinghuo-1 was the first Chinese Mars mission and weighed 115kg. It was the first Mars Chinese Space Program mission. It was launched in a dual-launch with Phobos-Grunt. If launch was successful in 2011, after a 10 – 11.5 months cruise it would have entered  Mars orbit in August / September 2012.

The spacecraft was expected to remain in Martian orbit for one year. Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 were to complete occultation experiments.

Did you know?

* The Babakin Science and Research Space Centre is a branch enterprise of Lavochkin Association (Lavochkin Design Bureau), one of Russia’s leading enterprises in the development of interplanetary spacecraft. It is named after Georgy N. Babakin, Chief Designer of the Lavochkin Association from 1965 to 1971. He was a founder of space-craft engineering at Lavochkin Association. It is managed by Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.

* The last Russian mission to Planet Mars was Mars 96 orbiter. It was launched in 1996 and crashed into the Pacific Ocean due to problems with the Proton launch vehicle. Mars 96 spacecraft was based on the Phobos spacecraft design. Mars 96 at the time of its launch was intended to be the heaviest interplanetary probe ever launched.

* Phobos Grunt was originally planned to be launched in 2009.

Books and DVDs:

Books on MarsSection with various books on topics related to Planet Mars.

Mars DVD: Includes documentaries, TV shows and movies.

Phobos Grunt Links

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