Russian space officials have lost contact with its unmanned robotic Mars probe which is now stuck in orbit around the earth, the Interfax news agency reported on Saturday.
All efforts to make contact with the mission have apparently failed.
All attempts to obtain telemetric information from the Phobos-Grunt probe and activate its command system have failed. The probe must be considered lost, Interfax quoted a space official as saying.
Russia’s space agency will formally announce the mission’s failure in a few days, the source told Interfax.
Agence France Presses reported that if Russian engineers cannot reprogram Phobos-Grunt’s computer system, the probe would either becoming another piece of space junk or perhaps fall back to Earth early next month.
On Wednesday, when the 5-billion ruble ($164 million) probe was launched, its thrusters failed to fire, forcing it to orbit the earth rather than make its trajectory towards Mars.
As early as Thursday, Vladimir Uvarov, a former space official at the Russian Defense Ministry, told the Russian daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta: I think we have lost the Phobos-Grunt. It looks like a serious flaw. The past experience shows that efforts to make the engines work will likely fail.
Originally, the mission was seeking to land on Phobos, a Martian moon, and retrieve rock samples back to Earth. The craft is also carrying a Chinese satellite.
Russia’s once legendary space program has suffered a number of failures this year, the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic maiden flight into space.
In August, manned space flights to the International Space Station were halted after a cargo craft crashed.
For now, the worries are over the Phobos-Grunt possibly colliding with other spacecraft.
However, Brian Weeden, a technical adviser at the Secure World Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to the sustainable use of space, told SPACE.com: There aren't many satellites that low. The space station is above that orbit, and the space station is one of the lowest spacecraft in orbit. The parking orbit for Phobos-Grunt is quite a bit underneath the space station. There's no real risk of it hitting anything in terms of an active satellite.
In the event the Russian cannot resume contact with the probe, it might be lost forever.
It would become another piece of orbital debris, and it may actually be right now, Weeden said. The question is: how much command and control do the Russians have?