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Russia Delays Mars Moon Mission Until 2011

WASHINGTON ? The Russian space agency, Roskosmos, hasdecided to postpone the launch of a mission to the Martian moon Phobos from2009 to 2011, according to a U.S. scientist involved in the first Russian-ledinterplanetary mission in more than a decade.

The Phobos-Gruntmission had been slated to lift off aboard a Zenit rocket in October on athree-year mission to study Phobos and return rock and soil samples to Earth.The rocket also was to carry a Mars orbiter contributed by China.

Bruce Betts, director of projects at the Pasadena,Calif.-based Planetary Society, says Roskosmos officials decided Sept. 21 topostpone the Phobos-Grunt mission until the next favorable launch window opensin late 2011.

?In recent months, the Phobos-Grunt missionteam has been making every effort to meet the October 2009 launch period,?Betts wrote in a Sept. 21 update posted on the Planetary Society?s Web site.?More recently, the fully integrated spacecraft has been undergoing testing atNPO Lavochkin, the industrial organization where the spacecraft is being built.It appears that those tests could not be completed in time to assure thespacecraft?s readiness for launch.?

The Phobos-Grunt mission consists of an unmanned lander andsample-return craft. The Planetary Society contributed a tiny payload known asthe Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment that was delivered to Russia thissummer for integration with the spacecraft.

China?s Yinghou-1 Mars orbiter was slated to launch alongwith Phobos-Grunt aboard the same Zenit rocket.

Russia?s last interplanetary mission was Mars 96,an orbiter and lander mission that was lost in a November 1996 launch failure.

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