In this Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 file photo, the Zenit-2SB rocket with Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-Ground) blasts off from its launch pad at the Cosmodrome Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Russia’s space agency says a probe bound for a moon of Mars that instead got stuck in Earth’s orbit will plummet down to Earth next month.The agency said Friday Dec. 16, 2011 the unmanned Phobos-Ground probe that got stranded after its Nov. 9 launch will come crashing down between Jan. 6 and Jan. 19. (AP Photo/Oleg Urusov, pool)
A Russian spacecraft bound for a moon of Mars and stuck in Earth’s orbit
will come crashing back next month (January, 2012), but its toxic fuel and
radioactive material on board will pose no danger of contamination, the Russian
space agency said Friday (December 16, 2011).
Between 20 and 30 fragments of the probe with a total weight
of up to 200 kg (440 lbs) will survive the fiery plunge and shower the Earth’s
surface, Roscosmos warned in a statement.
The agency said the unmanned Phobos-Ground spacecraft will
plummet to Earth between Jan. 6 and Jan. 19, and the rough area of where the
fragments could fall could only be calculated a few days ahead of its plunge.
As of now, it said only that the probe’s fragments could
rain down anywhere along a broad swath between 51.4 degrees north to 51.4
degrees south, which would include most of land surface.
While the agency had lost contact with the probe following
its launch on Nov. 9, this was the first time acknowledged that the
$170-million craft has been lost and will come crashing down.
Since its November (2011) launch the engineers in Russia and at
the European Space Agency have attempted unsuccessfully to propel it away from
Earths orbit and toward its target.
Phobos-Ground weighs 13.2 metric tons (14.6 tons), which
includes 11 metric tons (12 tons) of highly toxic fuel. Experts had warned that
if the fuel has frozen, some could survive entry into Earth and pose a serious
threat if it falls over populated areas.
But Roscosmos said it is sure that all fuel will burn on
re-entry some 100 km (330,000 ft) above the ground and pose no danger. It said
that 10 kg (22 lbs) of Cobalt-57, a radioactive metal contained in one of the
craft’s instruments, will not pose a threat of radioactive contamination.
The Phobos-Ground was Russia’s first interplanetary
mission since a botched 1996 robotic mission to Mars, which failed when the
probe crashed shortly after the launch due to an engine failure. Mars has two
moons, Phobos and Deimos, and the latest spacecraft aimed to take ground
samples on Phobos.
It was one of the most challenging unmanned interplanetary
mission ever. Scientists had hoped that studies of Phobos’ surface could help
solve the mystery of its origin and shed more light on the genesis of the solar
system. Some believe the crater-dented moon is an asteroid captured by Mars’
gravity, while others think it’s a piece of debris from when Mars collided with
another celestial object.
The failed mission was the latest in a series of recent
Russian launch failures that have raised concerns about the condition of the
country’s space industries. Officials have blamed the failures on obsolete
equipment and an aging workforce.
SOURCE – The Associated Press