Source: Russian Space Probe Unlikely to be Saved

Posted November 11th, 2011 at 1:55 pm (UTC-5)
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A source in Russia's space industry says chances are slim for saving an unmanned Russian mission to Mars that remains stuck in low earth orbit.

The source told Russia's Interfax news agency Friday that overnight efforts to re-establish contact with the spacecraft were unsuccessful.

The source said that attempts to make contact with the probe will continue, using Earth-based facilities operated by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft went awry within minutes of its launch. It was headed for the Martian moon Phobos and also carried a Chinese satellite intended to orbit Mars.

The $165 million probe could crash to Earth in a few weeks if engineers can not fix the problem, which is related to the craft's flight computer.

The inter-planetary spacecraft took off from Kazakhstan Wednesday and separated from its Zenit-2SB rocket about 10 minutes later, before the mishap occurred.

Plans called for the spacecraft to reach Mars next October and land on Phobos, the larger of Mars' two asteroid-like moons, in early 2013 before returning to Earth with soil samples in 2014.

The goal of the Phobos-Soil mission was to collect soil from the surface of Phobos and return it to Earth.

Two Russian missions to Phobos in 1988 and a Martian lander mission in 1996 never reached their destinations. Experts said Russia hoped a successful Phobos-Soil mission would help boost the reputation of its pioneering space program.

The United States, Japan and the European Space Agency have succeeded in carrying out scientific missions beyond Earth's moon.