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Failed Venus space probe from early 1970s crashing to Earth soon

By Elizabeth Rayne
NASA image of Venus

More space junk looks like it’s on its way to becoming Earth junk. Last year China’s Tiangong-1 space station came hurtling through the atmosphere, and as early as this year, Russia’s failed Venus probe Cosmos 482 should be on its way down after 47 years in space. Launched on March 31, 1972, its rocket seriously messed up on the way to the second planet, and much of its hardware got stuck in our atmosphere instead.

Cosmos 482 was supposed to follow up on the feat that its predecessor Venera 8 accomplished when it became the second craft to ever land on the scorching surface of Venus, staying alive for 50 minutes and 11 seconds before it could no longer take the heat. Unfortunately, Cosmos 482 never even got close. It ended up floating around in an Earth parking orbit. Some hardware kicked out fell through the atmosphere, but its entry capsule still circles the planet once every 112 minutes.

Because Cosmos 482 was built to put up with the insane temperatures of the Venusian atmosphere, all 1,091 lbs. of it should survive a descent through our own.

"Yes, the descent craft will survive a re-entry with no problems," satellite watcher Thomas Dorman told "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!"

Decay could happen while the craft is still hanging out in space. Solar activity could determine how much of it is still intact by the time it falls through the clouds. Its orbit extends to over 1,700 miles from Earth, but the perigree, or low point, of that orbit is just 125 miles away. Even though it seems dangerously close, scientists and skywatchers have estimated Cosmos 482 could still be stuck in space for up to another two and a half years.

For now, you can keep up with the probe fail here. Just hope it ends up crashing into the ocean.


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