The Tech Herald

Russia's Martian probe will impact Earth in January

by Steven Mostyn - Dec 19 2011, 18:18

Image: Ruscosmos.

A problematic space probe that’s been causing headaches for the Russians is expected to plummet back to Earth during the second or third week of January, according to the Ruscosmos space agency.

The unmanned Phobos-Grunt probe, which was designed to gather data from the surface of Martian moon Phobos, has been stuck in Earth orbit since November when scheduled momentum burns failed to happen.

Mission controllers have said the stricken probe will soon burn off the last of its primary fuel reserves, at which point the spacecraft’s orbit will degrade rapidly as it falls back into the planet’s atmosphere.  

The impact window is currently set between January 6 and January 19 and it is hoped that none of the toxic propellant earmarked for the failed journey to Phobos will survive the re-entry process.

That being said, Roscosmos officials have warned that up to 30 pieces of the burning probe (which weighs in at around 14 tons) are likely to strike the Earth’s surface. It is not yet known where the debris will hit but experts are confident regarding public safety.

In related news, the Chinese space agency is probably not best pleased at the prospect of Phobos-Grunt’s imminent demise, mainly because November’s launch included the country’s very first Mars-bound satellite.

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