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Phobos-Grunt fragments to fall over Earth on Jan 6-19, 2012

December 16, 2011, 20:33 UTC+3
No more than 20-30 fragments made of heat proof materials can fall on the Earth. Their total weight will not exceed 200 kilograms
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MOSCOW, December 16 (Itar-Tass) —— Fragments of the Phobos-Grunt interplanetary research rover will fall over the Earth from January 6 through 19, 2012, the Federal Space Agency said on Friday.

“According to the preliminary estimate, rover fragments may fall over the Earth from January 6 through 19, 2012, on a strip between 51.4 degrees North and 51.4 degrees South. More precise coordinates will become known only several days in advance,” the agency said.

No more than 20-30 fragments made of heat proof materials can fall on the Earth. Their total weight will not exceed 200 kilograms. Fuel will burn in dense layers of the atmosphere, about 100 kilometers above the ground.

“The radio isotope source (cobalt 57) from a research instrument has a small weight of about ten micrograms and a short semi-decay period. It does not present a threat of radioactive contamination,” the agency said.

The dynamics of the rover’s braking in the Earth atmosphere depends on multiple technical and space factors, including those beyond human control. The main factor is the density of the atmosphere, which largely depends on solar activity. Domestic and foreign stations are daily monitoring the dynamics of the Phobos-Grunt orbit, the agency said.

Phobos-Grunt was launched on November 9. For no apparent reason, its engine failed to start on a low orbit and the rover did not begin its flight to Mars.

The vehicle was supposed to reach Mars and spend several months in orbit to choose the best place for landing on Phobos. A landing capsule was due to separate and to reach the moon surface for collecting relic substance, which, in the opinion of scientists, might have formed planets of the solar system. The samples were to be taken to the Earth.

An automatic station was supposed to stay on Phobos to continue the study and to monitor the local climate and circumplanetary space. The station was due to test prospective technologies of Martian flights.

Also, Phobos Grunt was supposed to bring a Chinese micro-satellite to the Martian orbit and joint experiments will be held. The Chinese satellite Yinghuo-1 (or Firefly Light-1) was planned to be placed on Martian orbit.

An interdepartmental commission was formed for analyzing the abnormal situation with Phobos-Grunt. It will present tentative findings in late January 2012.

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