A nearly 14-ton spacecraft that contains a massive amount of explosive material will plunge somewhere on Earth in January.
The Russian probe Phobos-Grunt, according to Spaceflight 101, will renter Earth’s atmosphere on Jan. 13, plus or minus five days.
It is too early to tell where the object will crash, but according to Space.com, several hundred pounds of debris is expected to survive reentry and reach Earth’s surface.
The probe was expected to collect soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos and return it to Earth. Many were surprised this past November when communication with the spacecraft was lost shortly after a successful launch.
The probe has been orbiting Earth ever since, getting lower and lower until eventually, it will crash.
Now, just to bring a little perspective to the situation, let’s remind everyone that this spacecraft is much larger than the UARS satellite that crashed on Earth this past September. Remember that one? You couldn’t turn on the television or the computer without talk of the doomed satellite.
Phobos-Grunt is almost twice the size of UARS, and according to Spaceflight 101, most of its mass is made up of “toxic and explosive propellants.” The propellant was supposed to boost the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit and straight to Phobos. We all know that didn’t happen, which means that Phobos-Grunt still has about 7.5 metric tons of unused propellant, according to Space.com.
But, don’t you worry. Many are reporting that the explosive propellants would not reach Earth’s surface, as it would burn before impact. That’s because the aluminum tanks that contain the propellant melt quickly. (Let’s hope those reports are correct!)
Besides the explosive material, there is also ‘sensitive’ issue regarding the radioactivity of one of the spacecraft’s instruments, according to a Dec. 8 letter from Lev Zelenyi, director of the Space Research Institute.
“One of the scientific instruments (Messbauer spectrometer) contains radioactive material Co-57,” Zelenyi stated. “However, the amount of Co-57 is about few (less than 10) micrograms, so that, according to our evaluations, no significant problems are is anticipated.”
We’ll have more on Phobos-Grunt, as well as some pretty interesting conspiracy theories, soon.