domingo, 15 de enero de 2012

Space Exploration - Doomed Phobos-Grunt Mars Mission Destructively Plunges to Earth

Phobos-Grunt plunged to Earth into the Pacific Ocean on Jan 15, 2012 - Predicted Crash Zone
Maps shows orbital track of Phobos-Grunt on Final Orbit before crashing to Earth in the Pacific Ocean west of South America on Jan 15, 2012. Atlantic Ocean was at the center of the predicted crash zone after fiery reentry of Russia’s Phobos Grunt spacecraft. Credit: Roscosmos
Today was the last day of life for Russia’s ambitious Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars after a desperate two month race against time and all out attempts to save the daring spaceship.
According to the Russian news agency Ria Novosti, the doomed Phobos-Grunt spacecraft apparently plunged into the Pacific Ocean today, (Jan. 15) at about 12:45 p.m. EST, 21:45 Moscow time [17:45 GMT] after a fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Phobos-Grunt fragments have crashed down in the Pacific Ocean,” Russia’s Defense Ministry official Alexei Zolotukhin told RIA Novosti. He added that the fragments fell 1,250 kilometers to the west of the island of Wellington.
Universe Today will monitor the developing situation and update this story as warranted.
The demise of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was expected sometime today, (Jan 15) after a fiery and destructive fall back to Earth, said Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, in an official statement released today.
Mission Poster for the Russian Phobos-Grunt soil sample return spacecraft that launched to Mars and its moon Phobos on 9 November 2011. The mission did not depart Earth orbit when the upper stage engines failed to ignite. Credit: Roskosmos ( Russian Federal Space Agency)/IKI

The actual crash time of the 13,000 kg space probe was slightly earlier than predicted.
Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin had previously stated that only a small quantity of fragments might survive and would fall harmlessly to Earth.
The spacecraft burst into a large quantity of pieces as it hit the atmosphere, heated up and broke apart. But the actual outcome of any possible fragments is not known at this time.
Shortly after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Nov. 9, 2011, the probe became stuck in low Earth orbit after its upper stage engines repeatedly failed to ignite and send the ship on a bold sample return mission to the tiny Martian Moon Phobos.
Phobos-Grunt was loaded with about 7.5 tons of toxic propellants, including dimethylhydrazine, that were expected to be incinerated during the plunge to Earth.
Frictional drag forces from the Earth’s atmosphere had gradually lowered the ship’s orbit in the past two months to the point of no return after all attempts to fire the thrusters and raise the orbit utterly failed.
Phobos-Grunt spacecraft being encapsulated inside the nose cone by technicians at the Baikonur Cosmodrome prior to Nov. 9, 2011 blastoff. Credit: Roscosmos
It’s a sad end to Russia’s attempts to restart their long dormant interplanetary space science program.
The $165 mission was Russia’s first Mars launch in more than 15 years.
Roscosmos had stated that the Atlantic Ocean – to the west of Africa – was at the center of the predicted crash zone. But nothing was certain and the probe had the possibility to crash sooner, perhaps over the Pacific Ocean or South America or later over Africa, Europe or Russia.
Roscosmos had predicted the time of the plunge to Earth to be from 12:50 p.m. EST and 1:34 p.m. EST (1750 to 1834 GMT) or 21:50 to 22: 34 Moscow time on January 15. The last orbit carried the probe over the Pacific Ocean towards South America on a northeasterly heading.
Russia enlisted assistance from ESA and the US in a bid to contact the probe to reorient itself and fire up its engines for a belated journey to the Red Planet. Other than extremely brief signals the efforts proved futile and today’s Pacific plunge is the unfortunate end result.
Hopefully the Russians will not give up in despair, but rather fix the flaws and launch an exciting new Mars mission.
NASA has had better luck with their Mars mission this season.
The Curiosity Mars Science Lab rover is precisely on course to the Red Planet following the Jan 11 firing of the cruise stage thrusters for the first of up to 6 Trajectory Correction Maneuvers – read the details here
 Source: Universe Today

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