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Earth From Space

December 4, 2011 by staff 

Earth From Space, The European Space Agency said it has abandoned efforts to contact a rogue Russian space probe, increasing the likelihood it will plunge to Earth.

The unmanned Phobos-Ground probe was to head to the Mars moon of Phobos on a 2 1/2-year mission to take soil samples and fly them back to Earth.

But the probe became stuck in Earth orbit after its November 9 launch and attempts to send commands that could propel it toward the Mars moon have been unsuccessful.

ESA said in a statement that although the agency has halted efforts to contact the probe, it will resume if any changes are reported by the Russian space agency.

A spokesman for the Paris-based ESA said Russia was going to continue to try to contract the probe over the weekend; he spoke on condition he not be named.

Russian deputy space chief Vitaly Davydov said last month that if the spacecraft is not sent to Mars, it could fall to Earth sometime between late December and late February.

The failed spacecraft is 13.2 metric tons; most of that weight, about 11 metric tons, is highly toxic fuel.

Experts say that if the fuel has frozen, some could survive the plummet to Earth, but that if it is liquid it will likely combust from the heat of re-entering the atmosphere.

The mission was planned to reach Mars orbit next September and land on Phobos in February 2013.

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