Dead Russian Spacecraft Will Burn Up in Earth's Atmosphere Today

Thursday, 07 May 2015 - 12:45PM
Thursday, 07 May 2015 - 12:45PM
Dead Russian Spacecraft Will Burn Up in Earth's Atmosphere Today
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The Russian spacecraft Progress reached orbit around the Earth last Tuesday, but has since been wandering aimlessly. An as-yet-unknown malfunction prevented the project managers from regaining control of the capsule, and as a result, the failed craft will kamikaze into the Earth's atmosphere sometime today, suffering an untimely, fiery death.

The capsule, which was carrying food, clothes, and other supplies for astronauts on the International Space Station, overshot its initial target and promptly lost contact with the controllers down on Earth. Russian scientists scrambled to find a solution, but ultimately declared the mission a failure after only a few days. They are currently investigating the malfunction, although it is believed to be a tank rupture or some kind of small explosion.

Now, the doomed spacecraft is expected to re-enter our atmosphere sometime today, burning up in the process. According to Roscosmos, the window of time in which it is expected to fall to Earth is between 5:45–11:36pm ET on Thursday.

Technically, 20-40% of the spacecraft could survive the Earth's atmosphere, and it's a scary/funny thought that a piece of debris could fall on one of our heads (duck!). But in reality, the chances that that will actually happen are infinitesimal. In sixty years of spacecrafts orbiting our planet, no one has ever been hit with falling spacecraft debris.

"It doesn't all come down in one piece. Most of the destruction happens between 80km and 70km high, and a very limited number of components have the potential to survive. These are scattered over a huge distance, up to 1000km, so you might find a single piece every 100km or so," Holger Krag, head of the European Space Agency's space debris office, told The Guardian.

Considering how much of the planet is water, and how relatively tiny people and buildings are compared to the land around them, the chances that a piece of debris would hit any specific target are negligible.

"It's a complete waste of time to worry about this. There are daily risks that are much higher," Krag said. "The risks of driving a car or flying in a plane are higher. Your chance of being struck by lightning is higher."