Russian space scientists have abandoned efforts to save Phobos-Grunt, their Mars probe, stranded in low-Earth orbit since early November.
Meant to land a probe on the Martian moon Phobos, the spacecraft carries 7.5 tons of fuel and a small amount of radioactive cobalt.
On Saturday, Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the Russian defence department announced a task force to study the probe's re-entry. Roscosmos says it expects the probe to re-enter Earth about 9 January.
According to observers, the creation of the task force basically confirmed that Roscosmos had exhausted all hopes for establishing control over the mission.
Raising a flicker of hope that the mission might be saved, the European Space Agency had briefly established contact with Phobos-Grunt from a tracking station in the Canary Islands. But further attempts failed and the agency formally ended its efforts after two additional attempts Friday last.
A top Russian space scientist issued an open letter on Thursday to colleagues worldwide apologizing for the failure.