back to article Dud Mars probe's explosion will spare Earth's cities

The chief of the Russian space agency has assured the public that the stalled and uncommunicative Mars probe Phobos-Grunt will not smash into a populated area of Earth. Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos, told reporters that if the wayward spacecraft re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, which he believes is still the worst-case …


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  1. Tom Chiverton 1

    And this is why we should send many cheap probes. The marginal cost of duplicating a probe once it's designed is small.

    1. Testy McTester

      Then it would be typical...

      that we'd be trying to communicate with many cheap probes in low-Earth orbit, to find out why they all failed to leave their orbits.

    2. Gordon 10

      Define many small probes

      Presumably Mars-Grunt had several distinct functions - but how many are independent?

      Integration testing becomes an order of magnitude harder once you have physical barriers.

      Dont you think that this would have been thought of?

      1. Wayland Sothcott 1

        Turn it off, wait 10 seconds and turn it on again.


    3. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      The thing is that most of the probe is actually the spacecraft to leave orbit and then fly all the way to Mars and then generate the required power for the experiments and communicate with Earth.

      You would have to duplicate all of this for each probe you sent, and it is probably significant. It is a bit like saying instead of flying 220 people on a single Airbus A321, you want to fly them in batches of 10; the plane is so much of what you actually fly that it doesn't make that much sense.

  2. Just a geek

    the price of the probe is almost irrelevant next to the research to build it and the launch costs.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actually, Europe's effort has been quite successful...

    Comrade Popovkin must have forgotten about Mars Express when he said "all attempts by Japan and Europe have failed so far"...

  4. McGough

    "All attempts by Japan and Europe have failed so far.."

    Ermm....Mars Express has been in orbit there for 5 years...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The British bit didn't work :(

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Didn't Beagle 2 fail because of a failure of the US airbag landing system? Isn't that the landing system that they weren't allowed to see any data on, because it is a weapon of mass destruction? (well to Beagle 2 anyway!)

  5. shobberlyridge


    Another piece of sabotage by a Mysteron mole, obviously.

  6. Gordon 10


    How many relay sats would it need to give any one ground station total NEO and beyond comms coverage.

    Im guessing somewhat less than needed for GPS for instance. I would also presume they are dedicated enough to be small and "mass" produced.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Europe is about to build some; European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS) I think the final configuration has 2 in Geo orbit. One is a dedicated sat, and the other 1 is a payload on a commercial communication sat. With this they should have almost continuous coverage of most of the Earth.

      However, these will be designed to work with small terminals built into specific satellites, using specific laser (& RF?) wavelengths, and these terminals will need to be steered to point at the EDRSs. I don't think that it would be worth adding a terminal like this to something that is only supposed to be in orbit for a few days.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How many?

      If you put the relays in geosynchronous orbit, only two or, better, three would be required. Coverage might get a bit thin around the poles, at least theoretically. However, most things planning to leave Earth's gravity well, like a probe headed to Mars, launch into orbits near the equator, so that's not much of a problem practically.

  7. J P

    The stats about success remind me of the (Soviet era) Russian reports on the running race between US and USSR Ambassadors (which the US won): "A race for Ambassadors was held yesterday. The USSR Ambassador came home second, while the US came home last but one."

  8. HamsterNet


    That should make a pretty light in the sky when it comes burning down.. just hope its at night and within a viable viewing angle of me.

  9. Armando 123

    I hate to ask, but ...

    If they couldn't get it into orbit, how certain are they that the explosion will make tiny pieces that will burn up in the atmosphere, and not big hot dangerous ones that will land on my house?

    Just sayin'. I have my doubts.

    1. tmTM


      He's not, it's called lying.

    2. IglooDude

      I hear you, but I'd imagine that there are very few big pieces of anything around when seven tons of rocket fuel goes bang. The Russians may be having bad luck getting anything to Mars, but blowing stuff up is something at which they have tended to be successful in the past.

      1. Cryo

        Of course, there's the possibility that large sections of the craft could break off and separate from the tanks prior to the fuel igniting, in which case they might not be near the explosion when it goes off.

    3. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      When pieces come down to Earth, it is usually because they were absolutely HUGE before they entered the atmosphere (think MIR), or becuase they are made out of materials that survive the very high temperatures /stresses of re-entry (e.g. spherical titanium tanks, aluminimum-silicon-carbide structures, etc.)

      The Russians will know what materials they used, and what sort of size they are. On top of that, some of the larger pieces may well end up smaller once the fuel starts reacting. If they say that it is very unlikely that anything will reach the ground it may be true. (Just because WMD were not found, not everything is a lie :)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Enlist the Americans!

    Shouldn't the Americans be asked to fetch the probe using their X-37B?

    1. Mark 62

      Not sure if it is large enough, but this was one of the primary design constraints of the space shuttle. To bring things back down again.

    2. Cryo

      We already have...


  11. akicif

    I hate to ask, but....

    ...."Where's the Kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Kaboom!"

  12. Sureo

    "Only 30 per cent of Soviet-Russian launches to Mars were successful..."

    I think the Russians should move directly to manned missions to Mars. Its obvious they can't build automated systems, and need a human to press the buttons. Any volunteers?

    1. Tchou
      Thumb Up

      They actually do provide the only solution for sending Humans to the ISS.

      Worked great so far.

  13. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart


    "the space agency is giving the rescue attempt until the beginning of December to succeed"

    Good trick, considering the batteries were only good for 3 days....

    1. Cryo

      It was later reported that it had gone into a power saving mode though, which should last a couple weeks or so. Or rather, they assume it went into a power saving mode, seeing as they apparently haven't made contact with the craft yet. For all we know, someone forgot to install the batteries.

  14. Ryan 7

    If it's in LEO,

    Can't someone just get a really long piece of string and a spacesuit, and pop out of the ISS to take a look?

    1. Ru

      Which LEO?

      Orbital mechanics are tricky things. It could be very much like trying to catch an artillery shell in flight... a little impractical, and any satisfaction you might have from succeeding will be rather brief.

      To extend an already daft analogy, its probably like a guy in Canada trying to catch artillery rounds being fired in Afghanistan. Chances of their orbits coming close are incredibly small, if only for safety reasons.

  15. TRT Silver badge

    This Mars...

    is becoming a marathon, he snickers.

  16. Steve the Cynic

    There's a solution for making sure it comes down in pieces.

    Standard Missile 3. It's already done it once. About the only limitation is that the Russians probably don't have quite as clear an idea of their satellite's location as the Americans did of theirs. (And wouldn't tell even if they did know, perhaps.)

    ((No joke icon because it isn't really meant as a joke.))

  17. Gonebirdin
    Paris Hilton


    Surely a job for PARIS & LOHAN

  18. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Does Anyone know who heads up Ivan's Virtual Sector Program?

    Maybe Mother Russia has decided to concentrate on command and control of cyberspace basket cases for unbelievable power over Earthly resources? Do that right and the returns are indeed stellar with no risk of rocket malfunction.

  19. Stevie


    So the probe will explode on contact with the atmosphere?

    Thus are the details of the new Russian Terror Weapon revealed to a world rendered helpless by years of appeasement in the exploding Mars Probe race!

    To the shelters! Flee! Flee the dread exploding Russian shrapnel probe!


  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe this is a stupid question, but I'm asking it anyway.

    Why can't they just go up into orbit and retrieve the expensive probe bits? I mean we (humans I mean) seem to be pretty good at getting stuff into and out of Earth orbit...

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      because of this:

      1. Wayland Sothcott 1

        Yeah, it looks like they still have a bit of work to do before they can use fly it.

        1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

          It is a sad state of afairs that a lot of their tech has just wasted away sitting around outside :( In it's day, it did fly, and automatically too, up and back by itself.

          If they had caught the capitalism virus sooner, they could've sold all the stuff to museums to be displayed and looked after like the US shuttles. (There is a reasonably well conserved Soyuz in the space museum in Leicester by the way)

  21. Beachrider

    The American Mars probe goes up in a week-and-change...

    Although the American probe doesn't return any soil, it is a monster device with a fascinating landing mechanism. It also has 10 anhydrous testing mechanisms and is going for a very promising target.

    Too bad about the Russian probe. Now let us cheer on this probe!

  22. Winkypop Silver badge

    Maybe it'll rain down like a falling star at Christmas

    And scare the bejesus out of some poor shepherds minding their flock.

  23. Jeckle
    Black Helicopters

    Spy satellite...? hahaha..

    it's a failed mars probe I tell you... so sorry it landed on your pentagon thingy... we pressed the explode button in orbit I promise... the nuke? it was part of the power supply.. designed in Tehran...

  24. Purlieu

    This becoming a marathon, he snickers

    that's so off Topic you deserve a Bounty

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > that's so off Topic you deserve a Bounty

      no, a Boost is what we want!

  25. Tom 7 Silver badge

    The fuel will explode?

    So the probe will somehow be eroded in such a way that the two liquids/gases mix and ignite and blow the thing apart?

    More likely it will vent and not mix until large fractions of a kilometre behind the craft as it re-enters at speed considerably in excess of the flame front of the fuel if perfectly mixed.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      More likely

      The re-entry will rapdily heat the fuel tank to incadescence, at which point the fuel will boil, blow the tank apart and ignite in the upper atmosphere, no need to mix the oxidant, given that the atmosphere is 20% oxygen and all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Fuel air bomb

        but who is the thermobaric weapon aimed at

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Launch a large weather balloon with an altitude hold feature and suitable transmitter to relay the "WAKEY WAKEY" signal(s) to the probe.

    Ought to get around the current limitations of ground stations, and if they do manage to get it working then the problem should be solved.

    AC/DC 6EQUJ5

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