Failed radioactive Russian probe Phobos-Grunt likely to fall back to Earth

Phobos-Grunt, the Russian probe that should be on its way to Mars but is instead parked in Earth’s orbit, could fall back down to our planet with a bang in the next few days. And the uncontrolled return of the ‘toxic probe’ is particularly worrying since it contains a small quantity of radioactive cobalt-57.

If Phobos-Grunt falls as expected, it will mostly break up in the atmosphere. But parts will survive and it’s not clear yet where they’ll land. As well as the cobalt-57, Phobos-Grunt also contains ten tons of fuel and oxidizer in the form of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. In other words, this isn’t something you want landing on your head.

Russia’s space agency is poised for a series of reforms after this latest, embarrassin failure. Efforts are still ongoing to try to get control of Phobos-Grunt, but it now looks increasingly likely that the probe will land somewhere on November 26th or shortly thereafter.

About Sarah Bosdiccia

Sarah Bosdiccia is a writer, journalist, blogger and editorial assistant. In the past, she has worked in the local newspaper business and has taught journalism modules at undergraduate level. She doesn't 'do' Facebook but you can follow her at @sarah_bosdiccia.


3 thoughts on “Failed radioactive Russian probe Phobos-Grunt likely to fall back to Earth

  1. It will be at least two weeks or a month before the probe re-enters the atmosphere, not a couple of days. It will be a few days before the batteries die and the probe becomes unrecoverable. Most likely, that’s already the case as it hasn’t communicated with ground controllers.

    Most likely, the fuel and oxidizer will remain liquid and explode harmlessly in the upper atmosphere but if the fuel freezes, and comes down in a populated area, it will be a toxic mess. Since the Earth is 70% water, the odds are good it won’t harm anyone.

    Posted by John Coryat | November 12, 2011, 6:30 am
  2. Would it not be more prudent to send a small rocket up to destroy it BEFORE it re-enters our atmosphere? Surely they have something laying around they could put to good use. They probably aren’t too concerned about it. That is unless the parts fall back (ironically) on the designer’s heads in Russia. That would be poetic justice.

    Posted by BeProActive | November 12, 2011, 7:32 pm

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