Russia’s Mars probe Phobos-Grunt is headed for a crash to Earth within the next three weeks, sometime around January 14 or 15 give or take five days. Orbiting at 18,640 miles per hour and traveling around 6,214 miles every 20 minutes with impact zone somewhere between 51.4 degrees north and 51.4 degrees south latitude.
The spacecraft has had nothing but problems since launching into space on November 8, 2011. The mission for Phobos-Grunt was to land on Phobos, one of the two moons that circles the Red Plant, gather rock and soil to send samples back to Earth in 2014. When Roscosmos, Russia’s Space Agency, tried to fire the rockets for an interplanetary trajectory, nothing happened. Phobos-Grunt suffers from total battery failure.
The problem is Phobos-Grunt has 7.5 metric tons of toxic rocket fuel UDMH, which stands for unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Heiner Klinkrad, head of the space debris office at the European Space Agency’s space operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, said “Russian scientists assume that about 20 to 30 fragments will reach ground with an overall mass of less than 200 kilograms some 400 pounds of leftover hardware.”
Klinkrad reported to Space.com, “The large aluminum propellant tank is likely to start leaking near 100 kilometers altitude, release its UDMH and then largely burn up.”
According to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, a significant amount of debris does not survive the severe heating that occurs during re-entry. Components that do survive are most likely to fall into the oceans or other bodies of water or onto sparsely populated regions. No serious injury or significant property damage from previous debris re-entries has been confirmed.
“We know surprisingly little about the Earth’s upper atmosphere. It can even be changed by hot days and puffs up higher into space, and the air within that upper atmosphere causes friction that slows the probe’s speed. There are a lot of unknown variables when it comes to satellites and space craft coming down. It’s orbiting at 30,000km/h, that’s travelling 10,000km every 20 minutes, so if someone’s calculations are out by just 20 minutes that means where they predict the probe will fall could be 10,000km out,” reported Australia’s Spaceinfo.com.au editor Jonathan Nally.