The Phobos-Grunt probe was headed into space on Nov. 9 when a rocket failed to boost it into higher orbit, marking the 19th failed attempt by the Russians to mount a successful mission to the Red Planet. Its $163 million demise -- the probe is expected to crash to Earth in January -- triggered outrage in Russia, including a call for criminal prosecution by Russia President Dmitry Medvedev.
"The probe itself has since communicated only sporadically with ground stations, and even then it has murmured only unintelligible noise," notes Jim Nash, in this detailed post on Scientific American.
But Lt. Gen. Nikolay Rodionov, a former commander of Russia's ballistic missile systems, says covert U.S. radio beams -- not any Russian screw-ups -- scrubbed the interplanetary trip.
"In a November 24 interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Rodionov said 'powerful American radar' in Alaska 'could have influenced the control systems of our interplanetary rover,'" Nash wrote in his post:
Rodionov was quoted saying the U.S. wants to use the ionosphere as part of its missile defense, although he did not elaborate. A subsequent article in India's The Hindu expanded on Rodionov's statement, indicating that he was likely referring to the U.S.'s (HAARP) observatory established in 1993.
As many Alaskans know, HAARP is a research facility on the Tok Cutoff northeast of Glennallen, used periodically by scientists from 14 different universities to tickle and analyze the ionosphere. A couple times a year, they power up its 180 antennas transmitters and beam radio energy skyward in various controlled experiments aimed at improving radio communication or researching the properties of the Earth’s near-space zones. See the HAARP FAQ for more.
HAARP last operated on Sept. 3 and wasn't turned on when the probe conked out, according to program director Craig Selcher, with the Air Force Research Laboratory, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
Even if HAARP had been turned on, a full-power blast would have kissed the Phobos-Grunt rocket with about 1.03 milliwatts of radio energy per square centimeter -- about the same as pointing a 60-watt lightbulb at it from about 69 feet away, he told Nash.
Nash's detailed story has much more info and many great links. The Internet also lit up with this latest HAARP tidbit, perhaps exhibiting the facility's true power.