Artist impression of the Phobos-Grunt probe bursting into flames as it enters Earth's atmosphere. (c) Michael Caroll

Artist impression of the Phobos-Grunt probe bursting into flames as it enters Earth's atmosphere. (c) Michael Caroll

After what can only be described has a frustrating, sleepless month for the Russian scientists involved in the Phobos grunt mission, which failed just after it escaped Earth’s atmosphere and became stranded into low-orbit, officials have announced that they have finally lost all hope and have abandoned any future efforts of re-salvaging the probe.

Russia’s Phobos- Grunt did indeed manage to communicate with ESA ground station a few weeks ago, albeit briefly back then, shinning a ray of hope for a possible re-boot, however it was all just a fluke, apparently. Subsequent efforts to re-establish contact with the probe failed miserably, despite worldwide efforts signaling it from behalf of any station capable enough were in vain.

The  $170 million Phobos-Grunt mission was set to land on Mars’ moon Phobos, collect samples and then return to Earth with them. The mission summed up Russia’s interplanetary ambitions, which hasn’t been able to achieve such a feat for more than 25 years.

In a recent press conference, Roscosmos and the Russian defense department announced that they have abandoned the project and are now preparing for a forced re-entry of the probe, which carries 7.5 tons of fuel and a small amount of radioactive cobalt. The announcement came just recently after a top Russian scientists directly involved in the project openly apologized.  Curiously enough, two weeks ago the Russian president threatened the scientists involved in Phobos mission with criminal charges, though I personally haven’t heard any more updates on this.

“Despite people being at work 24/7 since the launch, all these attempts have not yield[ed] any satisfactory results,” wrote Lev Zelenyi, director of the Space Research Institute in Moscow.

Zelenyi added, “We are working nevertheless on the issue of re-entry and [the] probability of where and which fragments may hit the ground (if any).”

In his letter, Zelenyi urges his fellow scientists not to give up hope and to try again on another mission when the next window to Phobos opens in 26 months. Concerning the Phobos re-entry,  Roscosmos expects the probe to plunge back to Earth around Jan. 9. Its location will be pinpointed with great accuracy, so chances of any human casualties occurring will be almost nil.

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