Feeds

Dud Mars probe's explosion will spare Earth's cities

Clock ticking on orbiting 7,500kg tank of fuel

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The chief of the Russian space agency has assured the public that the stalled and uncommunicative Mars probe Phobos-Grunt will not smash into a populated area of Earth.

Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos, told reporters that if the wayward spacecraft re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, which he believes is still the worst-case scenario, it won't harm anyone.

“There are 7.5 metric tons of fuel in the aluminium tanks on board. We have no doubts that they will explode [and destroy the probe] upon re-entry,” Popovkin said, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. “It is highly unlikely that its parts would reach Earth.”

The chances of contacting the craft are dwindling however and the space agency is giving the rescue attempt until the beginning of December to succeed.

Phobos-Grunt has been stranded in low-Earth orbit since it launched successfully on 9 November, but its engines failed to get it going on its mission to Mars. The probe was supposed to fly to the Red Planet, go around it for a few months and then land on Martian moon Phobos to collect samples before returning to Earth in 2014.

Instead, it has been circling our home world while engineers attempt to contact it and establish why it didn't fire its engines to send it on course to Mars. The astroboffins hope there's still a chance to get the probe on its way.

However, none of the attempts to get a signal to or from the spacecraft have been successful.

“We estimate that the Phobos-Grunt will fly until January, and to make it perform its mission we still have time until the beginning of December,” Popovkin said.

The major problem is how few earth-to-space communication stations there are. Engineers have to sit around until Phobos-Grunt passes over one and then they have a small window in which to send and receive signals.

Space boffins have now reduced the power of the signal they're sending up, because the craft is so much lower than it's meant to be, and are trying to lengthen the communication window.

Popovkin said losing the probe "would be a disappointment", but the Russian space programme would go on at pace.

“As to Mars - it is a planet that does not like earthlings. Only 30 per cent of Soviet-Russian launches to Mars were successful, the Americans have had 50 per cent success, while all attempts by Japan and Europe have failed so far,” he sniffed. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.