Roscosmos Head Comments on Phobos-Grunt

Roscosmos Head Comments on Phobos-Grunt

Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, finally has a statement on its website about the Phobos-Grunt situation.

Based on translations using Yahoo! Bable Fish and Google Translate, Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin confirms that they have not been able to communicate with the spacecraft, which has been stranded in Earth orbit since its launch on Tuesday. A retired Army general, Popovkin took over the agency earlier this year.

Popovkin’s comments appear to be the first official public statement from Roscosmos about the fate of the spacecraft. In the interim, a number of unnamed sources have been quoted in the Russian media about how long they have to revive the spacecraft before it misses the window to go to Mars or reenters Earth’s atmosphere. Earlier reports stated that the Mars window closes on November 21, but Popovkin said they have until early December. As for when it would reenter the atmosphere, earlier assessments ranged from late November to early December, but Popovkin said January.

He played down the risk of damage if the probe reenters. Others point out that the spacecraft carries a substantial amount of toxic fuel for its journey to Mars and return to Earth of a sample of Mars’s moon Phobos. Popovkin expressed confidence, however, that the spacecraft would burn up (“explode”) during reentry. That statement does not seem to take into account, however, that the sample return portion of the probe was specifically designed to survive reentry.

In addition to its main mission of returning a sample of Phobos, the spacecraft also includes a small Chinese Mars orbiter — China’s first deep space probe — and an experiment from The Planetary Society containing Earth organisms that were to make the journey to Phobos and back.

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