Phobos Grunt
Phobos Grunt. Credit: Roscosmos

UPDATED at 9:27 pm EST

WASHINGTON — A Russian spacecraft designed to return a soil sample from the martian moon Phobos lifted off successfully Nov. 8 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said.

The mission, known as Phobos-Grunt, launched at 3:16 p.m. EST on a Zenit rocket equipped with a Fregat upper stage. The spacecraft was placed in a parking orbit, where it was expected to remain until about 8:30 p.m., when its on-board propulsion system was to boost it toward Mars, Roscosmos said on its website. As of 9:00 p.m., there was no indication from Roscosmos that this maneuver had taken place.

If all goes according to plan, the mission will return a soil sample from Phobos by 2014, Roscosmos said.

The Phobos-Grunt probe was launched along with a Chinese Mars orbiter. The last Russian attempt to explore the red planet was Mars 96, which included an orbiter and rover but failed shortly after its 1996 launch.

Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.