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Mars probe fuel 'not a threat'

By Xin Dingding  (China Daily)

08:17, November 18, 2011

BEIJING - Toxic fuel in the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, stuck in Earth orbit, is unlikely to survive re-entry and endanger life, a space debris researcher said.

"The fuel inside the Russian Mars moon probe will have exploded as the probe breaks up during re-entry," said Han Zengyao, a researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology, who heads a team monitoring orbital debris.

The Russian probe, carrying China's first interplanetary satellite Yinghuo-1 to Mars, failed to fire two engines meant to boost it toward Mars after its launch on Nov 9. Ground control failed to establish contact and the probe's orbit is faltering.

Experts warned that the uncontrolled spacecraft could enter Earth's atmosphere in weeks. The fuel on board, accounting for roughly two-thirds of its 13 tons, could be a potential hazard if the craft crashes back to Earth.

The craft contains hydrazine fuel, which is highly corrosive and toxic.

Han believes that the probe will break up and explode dozens of kilometers above the Earth's surface due to aerodynamic forces and overheating.

"The liquid fuel carried by the spacecraft in a tank will explode in the aerodynamic heating and burn out. It is unlikely to survive and fall on Earth," he said.

Parts of the probe could still fall on Earth, though just how much is difficult to predict, he said.

The Yinghuo-1 probe, a 115-kilogram micro-satellite that accounts for only 1 percent of the total weight of the Phobos-Grunt mission, will be almost totally destroyed during re-entry, he added.

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helen at 2011-11-18141.0.9.*
China will have to rely on its own research and efforts to launch its Mars space craft. Nothing like self reliance to smooth out contradictions.

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