The Phobos-Grunt space probe undergoing tests (Photo: Roscosmos)
Phobos, one of the two moons of Mars
Hope is fading for the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars, as the probe has been trapped in low Earth orbit since Wednesday. The 13-ton (11.8-tonne) unmanned spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on November 9, atop a Ukrainian Zenit-2 booster. Baikonur ground control lost track of the probe when it failed to appear in its predicted orbit. According to the Russian Space Agency, the Phobos-Grunt's engines failed to fire twice, leaving the probe in a low, rapidly decaying orbit. Despite continuing efforts, ground control has been unable to get the probe to respond to commands and can only receive telemetry data from it. If the Russians are unable to regain control, the Phobos-Grunt is expected to make an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, along with its 8.3 tons (7.5 tonnes) of highly toxic propellant and radioactive cobalt-57.
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