Beijing: Toxic fuel in the Russian Mars moon probe spacecraft, stuck in Earth orbit, is unlikely to survive re-entry and endanger life, a Chinese space debris researcher said.
"The fuel inside the Russian Mars moon probe will have exploded as the probe breaks up during re-entry," said Han Zengyao, a researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology who heads a team monitoring orbital debris.
"The liquid fuel carried by the spacecraft in a tank will explode in the aerodynamic heating and burn out. It is unlikely to survive and fall on Earth," Han Zengyao said.
Parts of the Russian probe could still fall on Earth, though just how much is difficult to predict, he said.
The Russian probe, carrying China's first interplanetary satellite Yinghuo-1 to Mars, failed to fire two engines meant to boost it toward Mars after its launch on November 9.
Ground control failed to establish contact and the probe's orbit is faltering.
Experts warned that the uncontrolled spacecraft could enter Earth's atmosphere in weeks.
The fuel on board, accounting for roughly two-thirds of its 13 tons, could be a potential hazard if the craft crashes back to Earth. The craft contains hydrazine fuel, which is highly corrosive and toxic.
Han believes that the probe will break up and explode dozens of km above the Earth's surface due to aerodynamic forces and overheating.
The Russian probe could be the third uncontrolled large object to fall back to Earth in recent months following the crash of a 5.6-ton US climate satellite into the Pacific Ocean on September 24 and the plunge into the Bay of Bengal of Germany's 2.4-ton Rosat space telescope satellite on October 23.