Failed Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft to Reenter Today

Failed Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft to Reenter Today

Russia’s failed Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-soil) Mars spacecraft will reenter Earth’s atmosphere today, perhaps before noon Eastern Standard Time (EST).  It will be the sad end of a promising mission whose failure to leave Earth orbit remains a mystery.

Various groups monitoring the reentry offer different times for the probe to plunge back through Earth’s atmosphere, but agree that it will happen sometime today EST., which is associated with the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center (JPSoC), currently estimates 16:11-18:35Z, which translates to 11:11 am – 1:35 pm EST. 

The European Space Agency (ESA) states that it is coordinating the “international satellite reentry campaign” for the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination (IADC) committee, which includes NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos as well.    The ESA Space Operations (ESOC) website is not quite up to date, but according to its Twitter feed @esaoperations, its current prediction is “late evening” Central European Time (CET) plus or minus 4 hours.  CET is six hours ahead of EST.

Roscosmos itself is currently predicting January 15 at 20:51 Moscow Time to January 16 01:05 Moscow Time, which would be between 11:41 am – 4:05 pm EST, according to

The Russian government set up a panel to investigate what happened to the spacecraft, which was successfully launched into Earth orbit, but its Fregat upper stage did not fire to send it on to Mars.   Former Russian space agency director Yuri Koptev is leading the panel, which is due to report at the end of January.   ESA was able to contact the probe on Russia’s behalf twice in the days after launch, but the probe went silent thereafter.

The Phobos-Grunt mission was intended to return to Earth a sample of the Martian moon Phobos, as well as deploy a small Chinese spacecraft, Yinghou-1, that was to orbit Mars.   It also carried a small experiment from The Planetary Society called LIFE.

Predicting when or where satellites will reenter is an imprecise science.   The satellite is in an orbit inclined 51.4 degrees to the equator, so reentry can occur anywhere between 51.4 degrees north and 51.4 degrees south latitude.  Russia expects that 20-30 fragments may survive the heat of reentry and reach Earth’s surface, which is 70 percent covered with water, reducing, but not eliminating, the risk to people or property.

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