Russian Phobos probe (and passengers) probably doomed

It's a bad time to be a water bear, especially a water bear with a non-refundable round-trip ticket from Earth orbit to Mars' moon Phobos. Russian's Phobos-Grunt probe is having engine trouble, and unless engineers are able to work a minor miracle, the whole thing will be coming back down in a matter of weeks.

After a successful launch, the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was supposed to make two main engine burns to send it out of Earth orbit and on its way to Mars. It never did. The problem is likely a failure in the probe's orientation system, which means that Phobos-Grunt has no idea where Mars even is right now. There's a window of just a few weeks in which to fix the problem, but it's not looking good, and if they can't find a way to remotely kick-start this thing, there's only one place for it to go.

Yes, this means that once again, you'll have to worry about a giant piece of brand spankin' new space junk falling onto your head from orbit. And not just any piece of space junk, according to one ex-NASA expert:

"About seven tons of nitrogen teroxide and hydrazine, which could freeze before ultimately entering, will make it the most toxic falling satellite ever," he said. "What was billed as the heaviest interplanetary probe ever may become one of the heaviest space derelicts to ever fall back to Earth out of control."

Good times.

Via Wired

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