Phobos-Grunt is in the news a lot right now and if you’re into this kind of thing, you probably already know the story. It was supposed to visit a small moon of Mars (Phobos) and bring back some of its dirt (“grunt” is Russian for “dirt”), so we could get some better idea of how these odd satellites formed. It launched successfully, but then was stuck in Earth orbit when a thruster failed to fire. Despite some suggestion that it was interfered with via land-based anti-satellite technology (I’m looking at you Canada), the failure was most likely some mechanical issue that crept up while waiting for the typically short launch window for Mars.

Re-entry will eventually make it look more like novelty dog poop though.


Now, it’s about to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and some of it will almost certainly make it to the ground. There’s a one in a few thousand chance of it hitting a populated area, most of Earth not being populated. That won’t stop your local news from making seem like it’s probably going to land on your child’s school during nap time. When the German ROSAT satellite was about to come down last year, I heard a newscaster say “your odds of YOU getting hit by this space junk are better than hitting the lottery”, which was simultaneously completely wrong and intentionally misleading. There were so many zeroes actually associated with those odds, just as they are with Phobos-Grunt, ignoring them completely was and is the only sensible thing to do.

You can track Phobos-Grunt, while it’s still intact, here. Current predictions say it’ll be down by tomorrow, but it won’t take much for that to change.


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