Russian spacecraft Phobos-Grunt falls in Pacific Ocean

Monday, January 16, 2012

A model of Phobos-Grunt presented during CeBIT 2011.
Image: MKonair.

The Russian spacecraft Phobos-Grunt fell into the Pacific Ocean some 1,250 kilometers west of Wellington, Chile yesterday after circling in Earth orbit for two months. The spacecraft was designed to retrieve soil samples from the largest moon of Mars, Phobos, but its engines failed and it had remained in Earth orbit ever since.

According to the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), the spacecraft was in a near-Earth orbit with perigee 113.8 km and apogee 133.2 km at 8.15 p.m. UTC yesterday. It fell into the Pacific ocean around 9.45 p.m.

Predictions had varied on whether any segments would reach the Earth's surface, and it is still unknown whether any did so. People from New Zealand and London reported sighting the spacecraft glowing bright orange as it passed eastwards.

Russian authorities plan to determine the reasons behind the accident. The failure of the mission is being considered as a major setback in Russia’s interplanetary programme. Vadim Lukashevich, a space expert, commented, "Five and half billion rubles and all the hopes of Russian space science for a revival… today burn up without any glory in the earth’s atmosphere."