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Gecko sex satellite back online as Russia restores contact

Published time: July 26, 2014 16:49
Credit: STS-129 Crew, NASA

Credit: STS-129 Crew, NASA

Russia’s space agency has re-established communication with its Foton-M4 satellite in Earth’s low orbit, three days after losing contact. The robotic spacecraft contains geckos participating in experiments on how space conditions impact reproduction.

“We have conducted several communication sessions, and the link is stable,” said Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko.

“We are sure that we will be able to conduct 90 percent of what we initially planned.”

Foton-M4 will be following its current orbit until Monday, while scientists discuss whether their experiments require the original trajectory, which is further from Earth, and engineers try to analyze what may have led to the communication failure. The two main versions considered by Roscosmos are mechanical damage through contact with space debris, and an internal fault in the equipment.

Photo by Oleg Voloshin / imbp.ru
The satellite, the latest in a series that commenced in 2002, is meant to return to Earth in a controlled manner two months after its launch from Baikonur exactly a week ago.

The most eye-catching experiment saw a male gecko teamed up with four females, to see the effects of micro-gravity on their fertility, and the structure and health of their eggs. Every part of the mating ritual was to be filmed by multiple on-board cameras, to be replayed once the creatures returned.

Photo by Oleg Voloshin / imbp.ru

Other organisms on board include fruit flies, mushrooms, and microbes, which are to be used for experiments aimed at generating electricity. Non-organic studies on the 6.8-ton satellite will test the semi-conductor properties of crystals.

If, upon its return, it is discovered that the Foton-M4 was damaged by space debris, it will raise concern at the increasing pollution of the atmosphere. There are an estimated 22,000 man-made objects 10 centimeters or larger in orbit – big enough to penetrate the outer covering of the ISS.

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