A Russian scientific spacecraft whizzing out of control around the Earth, and expected to re-enter the atmosphere on Saturday, may have failed because it was struck by some type of antisatellite weapon, the director of Russia’s space agency said in an interview published Tuesday.
He did not say who would want to interfere with the spacecraft, which was intended to explore a moon of Mars.
The Russian craft, named Phobos-Grunt for the moon and the Russian word for ground, ran into trouble soon after it was launched in November, when its rockets failed to lift it out of low Earth orbit. What was to have been a two-and-a-half-year interplanetary journey to retrieve a soil sample from Phobos will instead end over the weekend, according to Russian engineers.
When the 13-ton Phobos-Grunt breaks up in the atmosphere, debris could potentially fall anywhere along a vast stretch of the Earth’s surface that includes the cities of New York, London and Tokyo. Though the odds are heavily against the debris causing any harm, the spectacle of people around the world anticipating the crash is another embarrassment for Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, which has presided over a series of rocket and satellite failures this year.