Russian Mars probe starts decaying

The Russian interplanetary moon mission that barely got off the planet has started falling apart.

Two unidentified objects have separated from Phobos-Grunt and quickly disintegrated, claims Canadian scientist Ted Molchan.

Russian expert Igor Lisov has partially denied the information, saying that only one object is a proven fact, while the second one is rather an observation error.

“According to the information we have, this object is some 15 centimeters long and weighs some 700 grams,” Lisov said. “Precise characteristics of the debris may be different due to equipment error.”

Both Molchan and Lisov cannot say what part of the Phobos Grunt may have separated from it.

Phobos-Grunt launched from Baikonur cosmodrome on November 9. Worth over 5 billion rubles ($200 million), it was supposed to bring back soil samples from the Mars moon, Phobos.

However, the engines failed on the probe after separating from the carrier rocket. Having reached the earth orbit, the probe failed to orientate itself toward solar and stellar reference points, thus failing to perform two maneuvers of moving to the Mars flight orbit.

Aerospace industry experts believe the spacecraft may go off orbit in between January 6 and January 30, 2012. By December 5, the spacecraft has descended by almost 50 kilometers.

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