An engine failed to fire on the Phobos-Grunt probe, Interfax quoted the Russian space agency chief, Vladimir Popovkin, as saying. The craft was intended to bring back a soil sample.
“The engine did not fire, neither the first nor the second burn occurred. This means that the craft was unable to find its bearings by the stars,” Popovkin said at Russia’s Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.
In a forum on the mission’s official website, Anton Ledkov of the Russian Space Research Institute said there were no signals from the craft. But Popovkin said officials were in contact with the probe, which remained in Earth’s orbit, and they had three days to set it on course before its batteries would run out.
Russia’s space agency was scaled back because of budget constraints and a brain drain following the 1991 Soviet collapse and has suffered a series of setbacks this year. “They say there is hope to reset it; apparently it’s a problem with the programming but there is very little time,” the lead mission scientist, Alexander Zakharov of the Space Research Institute, told Reuters. “I feel grief. It’s very sad that this is how it all worked out but this is a consequence of our lack of people after such a big interval … Many young people worked on this. There is a lack of experience, we are working almost from scratch.”