The European Space Agency (ESA) has reported that last night it received a signal from the stricken Mars probe Phobos-Grunt. The Russian mission was launched on 8 November but failed to fire engines that would send it from Earth orbit en route to Mars, and ground controllers had so far been unable to establish contact with it. ESA says that at 20:25 GMT on 22 November, its tracking station in Perth, Australia—whose 15-meter dish had been specially adapted to improve its chances of contacting the probe—picked up the signal. Details have been passed to engineers at the Russian Federal Space Agency. ESA says it will use its other tracking stations, in French Guiana, Spain, and the Canary Islands to try to keep in touch with the craft.
Phobos-Grunt aims to land on Mars's larger moon Phobos and return samples of its soil to Earth (grunt is Russian for soil). It also carries numerous instruments for in situ measurements of the moon and Mars and, before landing, is due to release a Chinese-built Mars orbiter, Yinghuo-1. The Russian controllers of the mission hope that the malfunction is in only the craft's software; in that case, they might be able to reestablish contact, upload a correction, and get its engines started. It is, however, only a matter of days or possibly weeks before Mars and Earth will have moved too far apart and the launch window is missed.