Thursday, January 12, 2012

Failed Russian Mars Probe May Crash in Indian Ocean Sunday

A doomed Russian Mars probe that's been stuck in Earth orbit for two months may finally come crashing down on Sunday January 15 over the Indian Ocean, Russian space officials say.

The 14.5-tonne Phobos-Grunt spacecraft should fall back to Earth sometime between Saturday and Monday, Russia's Federal Space Agency, known as Roscosmos, announced in a statement.

If Phobos-Grunt comes down at the "central point" in that window — 8:18pm AEDT (0918 GMT) on Sunday — it will fall over a stretch of empty ocean west of the Indonesian island of Java, according to a re-entry projection map Roscosmos published with the update.

But these projections are far from set in stone. The predicted time and place of re-entry may change as engineers continue to track the spacecraft's decaying orbit, officials said. All that's known for sure is that Phobos-Grunt will come down somewhere between 51 degrees north latitude and 51 degrees south latitude.

Falling back to Earth

Phobos-Grunt launched November 8th on a mission to collect soil samples from the Mars moon Phobos and return them to Earth ("grunt" means "soil" in Russian). However, the probe's main engines failed to fire as planned to send it toward Mars, and the craft got stuck orbiting Earth.

Russian officials still aren't sure what caused the failure. They recently raised the possibility that some form of sabotage may have crippled Phobos-Grunt and doomed its $165 million mission. Read More