Mars has been a house of horrors for the Russian and Soviet space programs for the past 50 years.
Not one of 19 Soviet and Russian missions sent to the Red Planet has been fully successful. Probes have been lost in launch accidents, blown up in Earth orbit, failed en route, and mysteriously fallen silent just as they were about to fulfill their missions. By contrast, NASA has flown 13 wholly successful missions to Mars in 18 attempts, going five for six on landing.
The table below shows all the Soviet and Russian missions launched to Mars since 1960. Seventeen of the 18 missions were launched by the Soviet Union. The lone Russian mission was Mars 96, which never made it out of Earth orbit.
Spacecraft Year Mission(s) Results
1. Mars 1960A 1960 Flyby Launch failure
2. Mars 1960B 1960 Flyby Launch failure
3. Sputnik 22 1962 Flyby Launch failure; spacecraft exploded in Earth orbit
4. Mars 1 1962 Flyby Some data collected, but lost contact before reaching Mars, flyby at approx. 193,000 km
5. Sputnik 24 1962 Lander Launch failure; spacecraft failed to leave Earth's orbit
6. Zond 2 1964 Flyby Communication lost three months before reaching Mars
7. Mars 1969A 1969 Orbiter Launch failure
8. Mars 1969B 1969 Orbiter Launch failure
9. Cosmos 419 1971 Orbiter Launch failure
10. Mars 2 1971 Orbiter, Lander, Rover Orbiter successful; lander crashed on surface of Mars
11. Mars 3 1971 Orbiter, Lander, Rover Orbiter successful; soft landing on surface but ceased transmission within 20 seconds
12. Mars 4 1973 Orbiter Failed to enter Mars orbit, made a close flyby
13. Mars 5 1973 Orbiter Partial success. Entered orbit and returned data, but failed within 9 days
14. Mars 6 1973 Lander Partial success. Data returned during descent but not after landing on Mars
15. Mars 7 1973 Lander Landing probe separated prematurely; entered heliocentric orbit
16. Phobos 1 1988 Orbiter, Phobos Landers Contact lost on way to Mars, landers not deployed
17. Phobos 2 1988 Orbiter, Phobos Landers Partial success: entered orbit and returned some data. Contact lost just before deployment of landers
18. Mars 96 1996 Orbiter, Lander, Penetrator Launch failure; spacecraft failed to leave Earth’s orbit
19. Phobos-Grunt 2011 Orbiter,Phobos sample Launch failure; spacecraft failed to leave Earth’s orbit
Nine of the 19 missions failed due to problems with their launchers, an unusually high number given Soviet expertise with that technology. But, even when spacecraft made it out of Earth orbit, they were prone to numerous failures that resulted in only a handful of partially successful missions.
The peak of the Soviet Mars effort came with seven launches during the 1971 and 1973 launch windows. Of the four orbiters that made it to Mars, three returned useful data. None of the four landing attempts were successful. Mars 3 came the closest to success, falling silent a mere 20 seconds after touching down on the surface.
After 1973, the Soviets put Mars exploration on hold and turned their attention to other targets. The nation completed an ongoing robotic exploration of the Moon, which ended with a sample return by Luna 24 in 1976. The Soviets also continued a highly successful series of missions to Venus and sent two probes to Halley’s Comet.
In 1988, the Soviets were ready to try their luck at Mars again, launching the twin Phobos 1 and 2 missions to the Red Planet. The main goal was the close study of the planet’s enigmatic moon, where the spacecraft would deploy stationary landers and hoppers on the surface.
Hopes were high–and were quickly dashed. Phobos 1 was lost during the cruise phase when a single character error in uploaded computer code commanded the spacecraft to shut down its attitude control thrusters. The spacecraft lost its lock on the Sun, and thus its ability to orient its solar panels properly. Phobos 1’s batteries depleted and the spacecraft died before controllers realized the error.
The failure showed a lack of sophistication in the spacecraft’s control system. Phobos 1 lacked the fail-safes that are built into a comparable American spacecraft, which would have sent a query back to ground control asking, “Do you want to shut down the attitude control system?” The controller would have immediately realized the error and initiated corrective measures to prevent it.
One might think, given their long record of failure at Mars and a dearth of recent planetary exploration missions to build upon, that they would launch a relatively small satellite with a fairly simple mission. Wrong.
Like several other missions before it, Phobos 2 came tantalizingly close to success. It arrived safely in Martian orbit and eased ever closer to Phobos. However, just before the critical phase of the mission, during which it would have approached within 50 meters of moon and dropped the landers, the spacecraft suddenly went silent. The precise reason was unclear, but engineers later concluded that a computer failure was likely to blame.
Less than three years after Phobos 2 failed in March 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed. The Russians corrected the flaws in the Phobos spacecraft design for a new mission called Mars 96. The mission never had a chance; the failure of its Proton rocket’s fourth stage on November 16, 1996, doomed the spacecraft to a fiery re-entry over Bolivia.
Russia’s Mars aspirations were then put on hold again as the Russian space program struggled for survival amid the economic chaos of the 1990s.
Fobos-Grunt or Phobos-Grunt was the last attempted Russian sample return mission to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. Fobos-Grunt also carried the Chinese Mars orbiter Yinghuo-1 and the tiny Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment funded by the Planetary Society.
It was launched on 9 November 2011 at 02:16 local time (8 November 2011, 20:16 UTC) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, but subsequent rocket burns intended to set the craft on a course for Mars failed, leaving it stranded in low Earth orbit. Efforts to reactivate the craft were unsuccessful, and it fell back to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry on 15 January 2012, reportedly over the Pacific Ocean west of Chile.
So i wonder why USSR/Russia has that extent of failure regarding spacecraft missions to Mars comparing with USA/NASA missions?
Why on the contrary missions to Venus had the opposite results with the most missions to be successful? (even Venus environment and atmosphere conditions are much more harsh than that of Mars)
Last edited by George1 on Fri Feb 27, 2015 4:40 pm; edited 1 time in total