The Kosmos 482 probe, designed to study the atmosphere of the planet Venus, is about to descend back to Earth after the failure of its mission.
ExoMars, New Horizons, Chang'e 4, all these names, associated with recent space missions, probably sound familiar. But have you ever heard of Kosmos 482? If this isn’t the case, don’t worry. This probe left Earth 40 years ago to explore the atmosphere of Venus. It is now preparing to crash back to the ground, after a mission that has proved to not be very fruitful.
Kosmos 482, towards infinity... or not
Between 1961 and 1984, the Soviets launched a series of space probes to collect data on the planet Venus. On March 31st, 1972, a new probe was ready to be launched: the future Venera 9 probe. Unfortunately, it was never able to live up to its name. After its failure to tear itself away from the Earth, the device in question was called Kosmos 482.
Why ‘Kosmos?’ This is the name given by the Soviets to the spacecrafts which remain in Earth’s orbit (whether this is the destination that was assigned to them or not) from 1962. So for nearly 47 years the probe has been gravitating around our planet, after the aborted mission from the first decades of space conquest. But its destiny is about to change.
Return to sender
Scientists expected that Kosmos 482 (or at least the 40-50% of the aircraft that did not fall back on Earth in the month following its take-off) would make atmospheric re-entry between the years 2023 and 2025, but it seems that the probe is impatient to return home. According to astronomer Thomas Dorman, it could crash down between the end of this year and the middle of next year.
‘It's interesting to note that the peak of the orbit is gradually deteriorating,’ he says. ‘But predicting this orbital deterioration is as much an art as a science. The other problem is that no one can predict solar activity for next year, which could affect the timing of orbital deterioration.’