Veteran satellite watcher Thierry Legault filmed the wayward Russian Phobos-Grunt probe, which was intended to collect soil samples from a Martian moon but is instead heading toward a destructive plunge back to earth.
Russia's Federal Space Agency launched the Phobos-Grunt probe in November, only to see it fail to depart for Mars shortly after reaching Earth orbit. It has been stranded in orbit ever since.
Legault reported on his website that his new video shows no sign of the spacecraft tumbling.
"The unexpected thing that I realized when I looked carefully at the video is that Phobos-Grunt is moving backwards," Legault said, "with its solar panels deployed but at the opposite of the sun. It's not surprising that it had no energy to communicate!"
Legault's observation spurred Ted Molczan of Toronto, a leader in the amateur satellite- spotting network, to study the spacecraft's orientation.
"The orientation revealed in Thierry Legault's video — propulsion module leading, solar arrays trailing — may possibly be explained by analogy with the shuttlecock used in the sport of badminton," Molczan told SPACE.com. [Photos of the Phobos-Grunt mission]
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