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'Little chance' of saving stranded Mars probe: Russia

November 22, 2011

The unmanned Phobos-Grunt probe is seen on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. - Photo by AP

MOSCOW: Russia's space agency said on Tuesday there was little chance of saving its Phobos-Grunt probe that aimed to bring back soil from Mars' largest moon but has been stranded in Earth orbit since its launch.

“There is little chance that we will be able to realise this mission,” the deputy head of Roscosmos Vitaly Davydov said in the first official acknowledgement that the probe is likely to be lost.

Russia launched the research probe to the Martian moon Phobos on November 9, in an attempt to reinvigorate its interplanetary programme which had not seen a successful mission since the fall of the Soviet Union.

However hours later the probe failed to depart the Earth's orbit and mission control lost the radio contact with the craft.

“We need to be realists.

Since we could not establish contact for so long, the chances to carry out this expedition right now are very slim,” Davydov said, quoted by the ITAR-TASS and Interfax news agencies.

Roscosmos still does not know what exactly went wrong with its ambitious five-billion-ruble probe, which was meant to scoop up soil on Phobos and bring it back to Earth by 2014.

“If we gain contact and understand what is happening with the probe, then maybe we will be able to draw conclusions.

But now we have no information from the craft,” Davydov said.