Russia’s troubled Phobos-Grunt spacecraft will fall back to Earth in the period of January 6-19, Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) said on Friday.
No more than 200 kilograms of the spacecraft’s debris will reach the Earth's surface and the fuel is expected to totally burn up in the atmosphere, the space agency said.
“According to expert estimations, the time period of the spacecraft’s falling to Earth will cover the period from January 6 to January 19, 2012…the location and the exact time will be unveiled no earlier than a few days prior,” Roscosmos said in a statement, published on its website.
Earlier, the head of Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, said the spacecraft would break up during its reentry into the atmosphere and none of the fragments would likely hit the Earth's surface.
Phobos-Grunt, launched on November 9, was designed to bring back rock and soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos. However, it has been stuck in a so-called support orbit since its engines failed to put it on course for the Red Planet.
According to NASA, Russia has failed in all 17 of its attempts to study the Red Planet close-up since 1960. The most recent failure before last month occurred in 1996, when Russia lost its Mars-96 orbiter during launch.