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A Brief History of Planetary Orbit Insertion Failures

13 Feb 2020, 13:05 UTC
A Brief History of Planetary Orbit Insertion Failures
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One of the most crucial phases of many interplanetary missions is orbit insertion. Everything must go right the first time, or the spacecraft fails to enter orbit around its target. And, all too often, there are no practical opportunities at a second chance, so an orbit insertion failure usually translates into a mission failure. With so many spacecraft being launched to orbit various targets throughout the solar system, it seems like this is a good opportunity to review orbit insertion failures over the last half century of planetary exploration to see what can and did go wrong. For this list, we are only considering missions which were destined to orbit another solar system body beyond the Earth and survived launch only to succumb to problems as they were in transit or arriving at their targets.

Mars 4 – 1974
The very first planetary orbit insertion failure involved a Soviet mission launched to Mars in 1973. Back in 1971, a pair of new 4,650-kilogram 3M spacecraft, Mars 2 and 3, met with limited success in their missions to deploy the first landers on the Red Planet and enter orbit as part of the Soviet M-71 mission. Both landers failed ...

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