LONDON, UK (Jan. 15) - 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. The out of control Russian space craft, Phobos-Ground, is likely to strike today which could come down in the south of England.
|About 15-ton Uncontrolled Phobos-Ground, Loaded with Toxic Fuel, Could Hit England (UK) within Hours|
Roscosmos said the unmanned Phobos-Ground will crash between 1641 and 2105 GMT (11:41 a.m. and 4:05 p.m. EST). Phobos-Ground could possibly crash anywhere along the route of its next few orbits, which would include Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia and South America but most probably it is feared to land in UK, anywhere between the M4 and the Falklands. The U.S., Canada and much of Russia are outside the risk zone.
The experts say the likelihood of the space craft crashing into any populated areas are minimal and it is extremely expected it will land in the ocean.
The Phobos-Ground is one of the heaviest pieces of space junk ever to fall on Earth, is around 13.5 metric tons (14.9 tons), and one of the most dangerous too due to highly toxic rocket fuel, around 12 tons, intended for the long journey to the Martian moon of Phobos.
The $170-million Phobos-Ground was Russia's most expensive and the most ambitious space mission since Soviet times. It has been left unused as the probe got stuck in orbit around Earth shortly after its Nov. 9 launch.
Its predecessor, Mars-96, which was built by the same Moscow-based NPO Lavochkin company, also suffered an engine failure and crashed shortly after its launch in 1996.
Its crash drew strong international fears because of some 200 grams of plutonium onboard.
The craft eventually showered its fragments over the Chile-Bolivia border in the Andes Mountains, and the pieces were never recovered.
The worst ever radiation spill from a derelict space vehicle came in January 1978 when the nuclear-powered Cosmos 954 satellite crashed over northwestern Canada.
The Soviets claimed the craft completely burned up on re-entry, but a massive recovery effort by Canadian authorities recovered a dozen fragments, most of which were radioactive.
The Phobos-Ground also contains a tiny quantity of the radioactive metal Cobalt-57 in one of its instruments, but Roscosmos said it poses no threat of radioactive contamination.