A SOVIET space probe once destined for Venus is doomed to crash into Earth – and could fall from the sky later this year, experts warn.
The 500kg spacecraft took off in 1972, but a failed launch has left Kosmos 482 circling lifelessly above us – completely out of control.
Alamy It’s likely that the Kosmos 482 probe looked similar to the Soviet Venera 8 craft
Previous estimates have suggested that the probe will crash between 2023 and 2025.
But new predictions put the fiery descent as happening before the end of 2019, Space.com reveals.
We’ve known that Kosmos 482 would fall to Earth for years – after a disastrous launch during the Cold War space race left the space junk floating above.
Soviet space missions typically involved putting spacecraft into an Earth “parking orbit”.
This diagram of a Soviet Venera spacecraft reveals what the probe may have looked like
This craft would act as a launch platform in space, and would come equipped with a rocket engine and a probe attached.
The probe would then be launched towards its target – but if it failed at this stage, it would be left in orbit and re-branded as a “Kosmos” craft.
“Like Venera 8, which embarked on a successful mission four days earlier, this spacecraft was to land on Venus with a design that devoted less of its mass to resisting pressure and more to thermal protection, instruments and a stronger parachute,” Nasa explains.
Kosmos 482 was launched by a Soviet Molniya booster on March 31, 1972, and successfully made it into an Earth parking orbit.
However, Soviet scientists failed to launch the probe into its Venus trajectory, causing it to separate into four pieces.
Two of these chunks remained in a low-Earth orbit, but fell onto New Zealand within two days.
“The Blok L escape stage’s main engine prematurely cut off after only 125 seconds of firing due to a failure in the onboard timer,” a Nasa report reveals.
“As a result, the spacecraft entered an elliptical orbit around Earth. Officially, the Soviets named the probe Kosmos 482 to disguise its true mission.”
On the morning of April 3, 1972, four titanium alloy balls that weighed 13.6kg and were described as “red hot” fell within a 16km area outside of Ashburton, New Zealand.
The balls – which measured around 38cm across – “scorched holes in crops” and made deep indentations, although no one was hurt.
According to international space law, the junk was supposed to be returned to its home nation.
However, Soviet top brass denied all knowledge of the origins of the junk, so the farmer who owned the land where the balls fell kept them instead.
Later studies suggested that the balls were gas pressure vessels from Kosmos 482.
Alamy This USSR stamp shows the interplanetary station Venera 8 (1972), which successfully flew to Venus
Two other pieces from Kosmos 482 went into a higher orbit, and we’re expecting a crash some day soon.
The landing module weighs around 500kg, and is “highly likely” to hit Earth’s surface in one piece.
After all,it was designed to withstand 300 g-force and 100 atmospheres of pressure.
“Yes, the descent craft will survive a re-entry with no problems,” said satellite watcher Thomas Dorman of the northeastern Oklahoma community of Zeb, speaking to Space.com.
“It would be funny if it was spotted coming down and the parachute has deployed … but I am sure the batteries to fire the pyrotechnics to release the parachute have died long ago!”
Alamy Here’s what the descent vehicle of a Venera 8 spacecraft (left) and its parent craft (right) look like
According to Dornan, we can expect a significant crash very soon.
“Our guess is maybe as much as 40 to 50 percent of the upper spacecraft bus may still be there,” Dorman said.
“It is interesting to note the apogee of the orbit is slowly starting to decay. My guess right now is that re-entry is late this year to mid next year.
“But predicting its decay is as much of an art [as] it is science. The other issue is, nobody can forecast solar activity for the next year, which could affect the decay time,” he said.
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