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Rogue spacecraft could fall on Ireland

Parts of a failed Russian spacecraft have an outside chance of falling on Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs has been told.

Russia has warned Irish authorities that the rogue space probe, which is plummeting back to Earth, could land here this evening.

Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was launched on November 8 on a mission to bring soil samples from the Mars moon Phobos and send them back to Earth.

But the probe's engines didn't fire as planned and it became stuck in Earth's orbit.

The 14.5-ton spacecraft has been circling lower and lower ever since and will now inevitably fall back to earth.

The Russian embassy formally notified the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday that the space object would fall somewhere between Argentina and Ireland.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in turn notified the Irish Aviation Authority and gardai.

In their latest bulletin Russian space officials estimated that Phobos-Grunt may fall to earth today, though the date could change "due to external factors."

The craft's tanks were filled with more than 10 tonnes of propellants Unsymmetrical DiMethylHydrazine and Dinitrogen TetrOxide, both of which are toxic.

But the tanks are made of aluminium, which has a relatively low melting temperature, and analysts are confident the tanks will rupture and their contents will be destroyed or dispersed long before any debris can reach the surface.

Sunday Independent