Toxic fuel fears as Rus­sia says probe will crash in Jan­uary

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

MOSCOW: A Rus­sian space­craft bound for a moon of Mars and stuck in Earth’s or­bit will come crash­ing back next month, but the toxic fuel and ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial on board will pose no dan­ger of con­tam­i­na­tion, the Rus­sian space agency said yes­ter­day.

Be­tween 20 and 30 frag­ments of the probe with a to­tal weight of up to 200kg will sur­vive the fiery plunge and shower the Earth’s sur­face, Roscos­mos warned in a state­ment.

The agency said the un­manned Pho­bos- Ground space­craft will plum­met to Earth be­tween Jan­uary 6 and 19, and the rough area of where the frag­ments could fall could only be cal­cu­lated a few days ahead of its plunge.

While the agency had lost con­tact with the probe fol­low­ing its launch on Novem­ber 9, it has only now been ac­knowl­edged that the $170 mil­lion craft has been lost and will come crash­ing down.

Since its Novem­ber launch the en­gi­neers in Rus­sia and at the Euro­pean Space Agency have at­tempted un­suc­cess­fully to pro­pel it away from Earth’s or­bit and to­ward its tar­get.

Pho­bos-ground weighs 13.2 met­ric tons, which in­cludes 11 met­ric tons of highly toxic fuel. Ex­perts had warned that if the fuel has frozen, some could sur­vive en­try into Earth and pose a se­ri­ous threat if it falls over pop­u­lated ar­eas.

But Roscos­mos said it is sure that all fuel will burn on re-en­try some 100km above the ground and pose no dan­ger. It said that 10kg of Cobalt-57, a ra­dioac­tive metal con­tained in one of the craft’s in­stru­ments, will not pose a threat of ra­dioac­tive con­tam­i­na­tion.

The failed mis­sion was the lat­est in a se­ries of re­cent Rus­sian launch fail­ures that have raised con­cerns about the con­di­tion of the coun­try’s space in­dus­tries. – Sapa-ap

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