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Phobos-Grunt probe failed due to 'space radiation,' Russia says


Russia's Phobos-Grunt ("Phobos-Ground") space craft before its launch.



Phobos-Grunt, the Russian probe that failed shortly into its mission to Mars, malfunctioned due to "space radiation," Russia's space agency said today.

A government commission came to the conclusion after weeks of investigation into what caused the probe to get lost in November.

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"Two components of the onboard computer system were spontaneously rebooted and it switched into a standby mode," the head of Russia's Roscosmos space agency, Vladimir Popovkin, told RIA Novosti news agency.

"The most likely reason is the impact of heavily charged space particles."

Popovkin blamed staff who built the rocket, who he said would be punished, Agence France Presse reported.

"Carrying out such a large-scale, lengthy job, they should have taken into consideration the effect of outer space on the equipment of an interplanetary station."

However, an unnamed space industry source cited by AFP called the explanation "absolutely ridiculous."

"They weren't making a vacuum cleaner but a spaceship that had to fly in the aggressive environment of outer space and it is just impossible that they did not consider this," the source said.

Popovkin also cited defective microchips as a possible cause, saying that the parts had been imported and was possibly substandard or even counterfeit.

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Roscosmos had previously suggested that interference from US radar could have caused Phobos-Grunt's malfunction, a theory that experts dismissed as highly unlikely. The agency was seeking to deflect attention from its own mistakes, Russian scientists told RIA Novosti.

Popovkin also announced today that Russia's planned launch to take three astronauts to the International Space Station would have to be postponed due to unspecified faults with its Soyuz space capsule. The launch was due to blast off on March 30, but has now been pushed back to the end of April.

Since the end of the US space shuttle program last year, Russian craft are the only means to send crew to and from the ISS, according to the Associated Press.