Science

US Mysteriously Deletes Russian Mars Spacecraft's Tracking Data

After Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin accused the United States of being the main suspect in rendering their Phobos-Grunt Mars spacecraft useless, the United States Strategic Command has mysteriously deleted all the spaceship’s data from their Space Track database.

The US military are not responding for requests of explanation and experts can’t imagine what could be reasons to this strange move.

Space Track is an unclassified but password-protected site. It tracks every object in orbit, publishing timely data about their position. The data is publicly available to more than 39,000 users in more than one hundred countries.

The site has been publishing data on Phobos-Grunt since it was stranded in orbit, along with expected re-entry points. But all of the sudden, all the data is mysteriously gone, replaced with this cryptic message:

Information regarding the Phobos-Grunt (SCC# 37872) is being accomplished in a different format. This format is different from standard entries posted to Space Track.

There’s no link to the that special data. The site has been publishing data about other objects since then.

Talking to Aviation Week, former USAF officer and former Joint Space Operations Center’s director Brian Weeden said that he has no idea of what could be the motivation behind such a weird move. Weeden claims this is directly against current data-sharing policies “on space situational awareness and undermines efforts by other US government agencies such as NASA and the State Department to communicate with the public and other countries on reentries.”

Russian Accusation

Yesterday, Rogozin said they are investigating the probe’s failure, claiming that the United States may have tampered with its instruments using a radar installation in the Marshall Island. In the spirit of the worst times of the Cold War, Rogozin said that, if true, it would bring both technological and political consequences.

The $US152 million Phobos-Grunt failed to ignite its engine soon after successfully reaching orbit on November 8. It crashed into the Pacific a couple of months after it launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. [Space Track via Aviation Week]

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