Entries in phobos grunt (2)


Phobos Grunt: Failed Russian Mars Probe Falling to Earth

Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Somewhere, most likely Sunday or Monday, the failed Russian Phobos-Grunt Mars probe will return ignominiously to Earth, crashing -- at least figuratively -- on the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Most of it will burn up in the atmosphere, but 20 to 30 chunks of charred debris, weighing about 450 lbs., could make it to the surface, said Roscosmos. Where it might crash will not be clear until just hours before it actually happens.

Phobos-Grunt was launched toward Mars in November, but radio contact was lost and it never got beyond low Earth orbit.

The world's space agencies agreed that any one person's chances of getting hit by debris are tiny -- something like 1 in 20 trillion, based on the spacecraft's orbit and the amount of debris that might survive re-entry. The chances that of the 7 billion people on Earth, one of them, somewhere, could be hit are more like 1 in 3,000.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Spent satellites fall from orbit all the time, though most burn up completely before anything reaches Earth's surface. There have been a few recent -- but harmless -- exceptions: NASA's UARS satellite sent debris crashing into the Pacific in September, and the German ROSAT space telescope scattered debris in the Indian Ocean in October.

So the worst damage was to Russian pride. Roscosmos chief, Vladimir Popovkin, went so far as to suggest that someone had sabotaged the probe.

"It would not be desirable to accuse anybody, but today there are very powerful means of influence for space vehicles which cannot be excluded," he said in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia, translated by ABC News. He gave no specifics, and sources say the U.S. government, mildly offended, stopped helping the Russians track their errant probe in its final days.

More likely, said space analysts, it was the Russians' own fault.

"Certainly the quality control was lacking," said Charles Vick, who follows Russian space efforts for, "and testing the spacecraft ... was never done due to lack of funds."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Will It Strike Earth? Russian Phobos-Grunt Mars Probe Stuck in Earth's Orbit

NASA(BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan) -- A Russian space probe called Phobos-Grunt -- launched on an ambitious mission to return soil from one of the moons of Mars -- is instead stuck in Earth's orbit after its booster rocket's upper stage failed to send it on its way Tuesday night.

Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, is now trying anxiously to find the problem and see if the ship can be sent on its way to Mars -- or whether it is lost a few hundred miles above Earth's surface, destined eventually to fall ignominiously back into the atmosphere and perhaps scatter debris on the surface.

Phobos-Grunt (the word "Grunt" is a translation of "ground") was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:16 p.m. ET Tuesday. The plan was for its upper stage then to boost it on the long flight to Mars, where it was intended to go into orbit in September 2012. It was supposed to land on Phobos in February 2013, scoop up about 7 ounces of soil, and bring it back to Earth in August 2014.

But Ted Molczan, a Canadian satellite observer, said the upper stage never fired. It was supposed to start automatically, out of range of Russian communications stations on the ground. Molczan says the ship is in a low elliptical orbit, ranging between 129 and 212 miles from Earth.

Now begins a race against time. If the Russians can isolate the problem -- and it turns out to be something that can be corrected by remote control -- perhaps the mission can be saved. But if too much time passes, Mars will gradually move beyond where the ship, with a finite fuel supply, can reach. And in the meantime, Earth's atmosphere will gradually slow it from orbit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio