ESA Confirms Phobos-Grunt Reentry Location

ESA Confirms Phobos-Grunt Reentry Location

The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed today that Russia’s Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-soil) Mars mission reentered off the South American coastline on January 15 as earlier reported.

ESA coordinated the activities of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) that coordinates activities related to monitoring space debris.  Members include ESA and the space agencies of individual European countries, Russia, the United States, China, Canada, Japan, Ukraine and India.   ESA said today that —

“Following the 15 January Phobos–Grunt reentry, the US Strategic Command confirmed a reentry time of 17:46 GMT, referring to an altitude of 80 km at 46°S and 87°W, near the South American coastline. This corresponds to a pass at 10 km altitude about seven minutes later – very close to ESA’s prediction.

“’While this was an uncontrolled reentry, the location of the potential impact area was largely over ocean, with a correspondingly low probability of any detrimental effects,’ said Prof. Heiner Klinkrad, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office in Darmstadt, Germany.”

Phobos-Grunt was intended to go to Mars and return to Earth a sample of its moon Phobos.   The spacecraft successfully reached Earth orbit after launch on November 8, 2011 (Eastern Standard Time), but its engines never fired to send it on its way to Mars.   It reentered Earth’s atmosphere on January 15, 2012.   Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, predicted it would reenter over the Atlantic, but Russia’s defense ministry reported that it came down in the Pacific west of Chile.  Confirmation of the time and location of reentry has been eagerly awaited by many in the space community since then and the delay in the announcement led to various rumors.

Russia established a commission to investigate the Phobos-Grunt failure chaired by Yuri Koptev.   It was scheduled to make its report to Roscosmos earlier this week and the results to be made public tomorrow (January 26).

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