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Mars-3 landed on the surface of Mars and began transmitting. It carried a Prop-M rover.

The lander started transmitting from the surface but went silent about 14 seconds later.

Did rover deployment absolutely require a ground command, or is there some possibility that it could have deployed automatically and "roved" a bit on the Martian surface? Is there anything that can conclusively rule this in or out?


According to Wikipedia, the rover was to remain attached by an umbilical to the lander, and do some local exploration while monitored and sometimes filmed by the lander.

enter image description here

above: GIF of how the Prop-M rover uses it's "skis" to walk. Linked here, from Giphy.

enter image description here

above: Mars Prop-M rover from here.

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  • $\begingroup$ How rigorous of an answer are you looking for? This page claims that contact was lost before the rover had a chance to deploy. The article seems to say the rover could not have operated after that point. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage May 31 '17 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage IEEE Spectrum does a great job of factual reporting in my limited experience. I think the article would be the basis of an excellent answer. This would then let me accept this answer as well. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 1 '17 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ Wow, thanks for that GIF, I wondered how that goofy looking thing moved haha! $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 18 '19 at 18:49
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An IEEE Spectrum article explains that PROP-M was never deployed:

Sadly, PROP-M never got a chance to do any exploring. The Mars-3 lander separated from its spacecraft on December 2, 1971, and entered the Martian atmosphere. After aerobraking with a heat shield, the lander deployed a parachute to slow itself down, and then when within range of the ground fired its retrorockets and made a successful landing on the surface, impacting the ground at about 20 meters per second and cushioning itself with shock-absorbing foam. Four petals on top of the capsule opened and the lander began to transmit data 90 seconds after landing, but all contact was lost just 20 seconds later, before the PROP-M rover had a chance to deploy.

emphasis added

If you just read this portion, there might still be some uncertainty as to whether it could have deployed on its own, but the explanation of how the rover was intended to work clears that up:

The way that PROP-M was intended to work was that after landing, a signal from Earth would instruct the Mars-3 lander to place the rover on the surface with a robotic arm

emphasis added

With this, there can no longer be any uncertainty. The rover did not have an automatic deploy function. It was awaiting a signal from Earth, thus since communication was interrupted it could not have deployed.

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