Russia’s wayward Mars probe ‘may fall Jan.14-16’
Russia’s troubled Phobos-Grunt spacecraft will fall back to Earth between January 14 and 16, possibly some place in the Indian Ocean, Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said on Wednesday.
Phobos-Grunt, Russia's most ambitious planetary mission in decades, was launched on November 9 but it was lost due to propulsion failure and is expected to fall any day now.
The possible scatter zone of the probe’s fragments is between 51.4°N and 51.4°S, Roscosmos said.
The weight of 20-30 fragments that may reach Earth (refractory elements of combustion chambers and the descent module) will be no more than 200 kilograms.
Toxic fuel will completely burn up in the atmosphere, Roscosmos said.
Roscosmos head 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's surface.
That includes the spacecraft’s 7.5 tons of fuel, which are stored in aluminum tanks that are bound to explode upon reentry.
Popovkin indicated on Monday that certain forces in the Western hemisphere, which is a shadow zone for Russia, may be shooting down Russian spacecraft.
"I don't want to make any accusations, but at present there are powerful technologies that can impact spacecraft, and their usage cannot be ruled out," Popovkin said in an interview with the Izvestia daily.
According to NASA, Russia has failed in all 17 of its attempts to study the Red Planet close-up since 1960. The most recent failure before November 2011 occurred in 1996, when Russia lost its Mars-96 orbiter during launch.