(update) Doomed Russian Phobos-Grunt Mars probe that’s been stuck in Earth orbit for two months has crashed down in the Pacific Ocean on late Sunday.
“Phobos-Grunt fragments have crashed down in the Pacific Ocean,” Russia’s Defense Ministry official Alexei Zolotukhin told RIA Novosti, adding that the fragments fell in 1,250 kilometers to the west of the island of Wellington.
The spacecraft fell at about 21:45 on Sunday Moscow time [17:45 GMT].
As of 20.15 Sunday, the spacecraft was moving in the near-Earth orbit with an altitude that varied between 113.8 km at perigee and 133.2 km at apogee, the Russian space agency Roscosmos said.
Phobos-Grunt, launched on November 9, was designed to bring back rock and soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos. However, it has been stuck in a so-called support orbit since its engines failed to put it on course for the Red Planet.
The head of Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, previously said the probe would break up during reentry into the atmosphere and none of the fragments are likely to reach the Earth. en.rian.ru
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A failed Russian probe designed to travel to a moon of Mars but stuck in Earth orbit will come crashing down within hours, the Russian space agency said Sunday.
Roscosmos said the unmanned Phobos-Ground will crash between 1641 and 2105 GMT (11:41 a.m. and 4:05 p.m. EST). It could crash anywhere along the route of its next few orbits, which would include Europe, southeast Asia, Australia and South America. The U.S., Canada and much of Russia are outside the risk zone.
A large part of each orbit is over water, and scientists have estimated that the risks of the probe crashing into any populated areas are minimal. Thousands of pieces of derelict space vehicles orbit Earth, occasionally posing danger to astronauts and satellites in orbit, but as far as is known, no one has ever been hurt by falling space debris.
At 13.5 metric tons (14.9 tons), the Phobos-Ground is one of the heaviest pieces of space junk ever to fall on Earth, and one of the most toxic too. The bulk of its weight is a load of 11 metric tons (12 tons) of highly toxic rocket fuel intended for the long journey to the Martian moon of Phobos. It has been left unused as the probe got stuck in orbit around Earth shortly after its Nov. 9 launch.
Roscosmos predicts that only between 20 and 30 fragments of the Phobos probe with a total weight of up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) will survive the re-entry and plummet to Earth. It said all of the fuel will burn up entirely in the atmosphere.
The probe’s fuel tanks are made of aluminum alloy and should melt early on re-entry, backing up the official assurances. If the fuel indeed burns on re-entry, the probe’s dry weight of 2.5 metric tons (2.75 tons) puts it firmly in the league of the ordinary.
By comparison, NASA’s Skylab space station that went down in 1979 weighed 77 metric tons (85 tons) and Russia’s Mir space station that deorbited in 2001 weighed about 130 metric tons (143 tons). Their descent fueled fears around the world, but the wreckage of both fell far away from populated areas.
Read more: www.physorg.com