January 9, 2012
Second Attempt May Be Made At Failed Phobos-Grunt Mission
Despite the failure of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which could fall back to Earth early next week, Russian space officials say that they would like a second crack at sending a probe to the Mars moon, Dan Vergano of USA Today reported this weekend.
"The Phobos-(Grunt) science team would like to repeat the mission using (the) experience that we got working on this mission," mission scientist Alexander Zakharov of the Space Research Institute in Moscow told Vergano via e-mail. However, the USA Today reporter says that he added the decision lies in the hands for the Russian national space agency (Roscomos).
Roscomos is currently looking into the cause of the accident that left the $165-million vehicle stranded in Earth's orbit, unable to either complete its eight-month journey to Phobos to obtain soil samples or communicate with ground control officials in the days and weeks following its November 8 launch. Their investigation is expected to wrap up sometime this month, Vergano says.
Late last week, AFP quoted Russian military space force spokesman Alexei Zolotukhin as saying that, as of Wednesday, the probe was expected to plummet through the planet's atmosphere on January 15. Furthermore, Zolotukhin notes that Phobos-Grunt was circling at an altitude of 114 miles and 139 miles above the Earth's surface, the news agency added.
The probe's descent is being tracked by amateur astronomer Thierry Legault, who according to BBC News Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos has been using a "sophisticated telescopic tracking system" at the Calern Plateau Observatory near Nice, France. Legault's footage has been uploaded to his Astrophotography website, Amos said.
It was previously reported that 20 to 30 fragments of the nearly 14 ton probe were expected to survive re-entry and collide with the Earth's surface. Those pieces could weigh a total of up to 400 pounds, according to Seattle Post-Intelligencer blogger Amy Rolph, and Vergano notes that they could land anywhere "from 51.4 degrees north latitude, about as far north as London, to 51.4 degrees south latitude, nearly as far south as the tip of South America."
Phobos-Grunt contains potentially toxic fuel, but AFP reports that it is expected to burn up once the vehicle re-enters Earth's atmosphere and is not expected to become an environmental hazard.
As for the mission itself, space law attorney Michael Listner, a writer for The Space Review, told USA Today that it was "way too ambitious, and way too underfunded, to reach its goal."
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