London: A Russian spacecraft launched this week destined for Mars has yet to leave Earth orbit – and looks increasingly likely to tumble back to Earth with its full tanks of dangerous toxic fuel.
Russia’s space agency has all but given up hope of saving the 100million pounds spacecraft that was bound for Mars but conked out shortly after launch, the Daily Mail reported.
The spacecraft weighs 14.6 tons, and most of that weight (about 12 tons) is a highly toxic mix of nitrogen teroxide and hydrazine fuel.
Engineers had three days to fix a problem that caused the Phobos-Grunt probe to shut down before batteries aboard the craft died for good.
The engines that were supposed to propel it on its way to the red planet failed to ignite, but any attempts to correct the failure seemed doomed as scientists admitted that they couldn’t even establish communications with the craft.
Now that the deadline has come and gone, Phobos-Grunt will run out of battery life and begin a decaying orbit around the Earth until it - and the 12 tons of dangerous fuel it is carrying - makes an unwelcome and uncontrolled return to the surface.
Roscosmos spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov said efforts to communicate with the unmanned Phobos-Grunt hadn’t brought any results.
He said controllers were still working to fix the probe but there was little likelihood they would be successful.
The Russians are hoping the fuel will stay liquid when the probe comes down, harmlessly exploding about 50 miles above ground.
But experts like James Oberg, a NASA veteran who now works as a space consultant, think the fuel could freeze, surviving the fiery re-entry and causing an environmental disaster on impact.
He said the probe would become ‘the most toxic falling satellite ever’ and added “What was billed as the heaviest interplanetary probe ever may become one of the heaviest space derelicts to ever fall back to Earth out of control, an unenviable record.”