13-ton satellite may hit Atlantic Ocean

2012-01-13 13:06

A failed Russian Mars probe weighing 13.5 tons is most likely to strike earth somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean near Argentina, officials at Russia’s national space agency Roscosmos have said.

The statement published on the agency website updated a Thursday prediction the Fobos-Grunt probe would reach the Earth’s surface in the Indian Ocean somewhere near the island nation Madagascar on Sunday.

The Russian probe has been in a decaying orbit since its interplanetary engines failed to ignite following a November 9 launch. An accurate estimate of precisely when and where the spaceship would hit earth is practically impossible, Roscosmos has said.

Vladimir Sychov, a researcher working for Russia’s Institute for Biomedical Problems, told the Interfax news agency most of the spaceship was likely to be burnt up re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, but that some 200kg of debris could possibly reach the earth’s surface.

Colonies of fruit flies and bacteria aboard the vessel are contained in hermetically-sealed titanium capsules, but are nonetheless unlikely to survive the fall to earth.

Should they survive to landing the flies and bacteria would not be dangerous to people, Sychov said.

The Phobos-Grunt vehicle also contains the radioactive element cobalt in some of its surveying equipment.

The amount of material is small and, should it reach Earth, is extremely unlikely to pose a threat to life on the ground, he said.

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