Mars 96

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The Mars-96 probe
The landing station of Mars 96
A Mars 96 penetrator

Mars 96 is a Russian mission to Mars that failed in November 1996.

The mission was originally planned by the Soviet Union . After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia's planetary space program was canceled, but with the strong participation of the European Space Agency (ESA), a Russian mission to Mars could be financed, "Mars 94", after some delays finally named "Mars 96". After a successful launch, the probe would have been renamed "Mars 8".


Mars 96 consisted of an orbiter, two small landing stations and two penetrators (probes that penetrate deep into the surface of Mars on impact). The space probe should arrive on Mars on September 12, 1997 after about ten months of flight. The two landing stations should be released about four to five days before arrival. The orbiter should enter a 3-day transfer orbit and the penetrators should land during the first month in orbit. The probe was later to take an elliptical orbit with an orbital time of 14.77 hours and a periapsis of 300 km.

Mars 96 was the largest spacecraft ever built, it weighed 6220 kg at launch and had a size of 3 × 3 × 9 meters in flight configuration. Their design was based on the Fobos probes from 1988.

Proton launcher with Mars 96 on board.

False start

Mars 96 was launched from Baikonur on November 16, 1996 at 20:48:53 UTC with a Proton-K / Block-D-2 rocket . The launch proceeded normally up to earth orbit, but the second ignition of the fourth stage of the proton, Block D , which was supposed to bring the probe onto an interplanetary trajectory, failed . The reasons for the failure are unknown as the stage was out of range of the ground stations at the time of the second ignition and therefore no telemetry data is available. The Mars 96 probe nevertheless separated from the rocket stage after the preset timer and ignited its own engine, which should provide it with the last thrust to reach the transfer orbit to Mars. Since the ignition of the Block-D stage did not take place, it only accelerated into the earth's atmosphere and burned up during the first orbit . Entry took place on November 17, 1996 at approximately 00:45 to 1:30 UTC . The probe crashed within a presumably 320 km × 80 km area that included parts of the Pacific Ocean, Chile and Bolivia. Block-D burned up a few orbits later.

Some sources predicting the re-entry of the lander's plutonium capsules confused the Block D stage with the spacecraft itself. The probe had already burned up when reports of the impending decline of plutonium in Australia or the southern Pacific caught world attention pulled. The object tracked in orbit was just the harmless fourth level proton.


Mars 96 was the first and, apart from Fobos-Grunt, the only planetary space mission of Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union . The ESA was the money invested at least partially saved by the replacement units of Mars 96 cost for the Mars Express rebuilt probe. Among them was the German HRSC camera, which in 2003 flew on Mars Express in this further developed form.

See also


  • Likin, V., et al., Harri, A.-M., Lipatov, A., et al., A sophisticated lander for scientific exploration of Mars: scientific objectives and implementation of the Mars-96 Small Station, Planetary and Space Science, 46, 717-737, 1998.

Web links

Commons : Mars 96  - Collection of images, videos and audio files