Russian Phobos Sample-return Mission Launches


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.