A forgotten failed Soviet spacecraft once bound for Venus five decades ago could be making its dramatic reappearance here on Earth sometime this year. According to Space.com, enthusiasts keeping an eye on Kosmos 482 say the remaining pieces of the defunct probe, which was designed to withstand the harsh conditions of Venus, could return to its home planet.
Kosmos 482 was launched from Kazakhstan on March 31, 1972, at the height of the Cold War era space-race – just four days after its sister craft Venera 8 successfully left Earth’s orbit. It’s believed that Kosmos 482 was similar in design and mission plan to Venera 8, which would mean that standard Soviet protocol would have the probe placed in an “Earth parking lot” for some time before an engine blast launched it on its final route to Venus. However, an engine misfire marooned the spacecraft, sending four now broken spacecraft pieces into a month-long orbit around Earth.
In April 1972, two titanium alloy balls measuring 38 centimeters (15 inches) across crash-landed in New Zealand after reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. But a hunk of the spacecraft continued to orbit around the Earth and has been doing so for the last 50 years in the form of space junk. What remains of Kosmos 482 is expected to crash back between 2023 and 2025, though experts speaking to Space.com say it could crash as soon as this year.
Currently, Kosmos 482 makes a lap around Earth every 112 minutes. Weighing around 495 kilograms (1,000 pounds) and equipped in thick thermal armor, experts say it will probably survive its nosedive back home.
"Yes, the descent craft will survive re-entry with no problems," satellite watcher Thomas Dorman of the northeastern Oklahoma community of Zeb told the publication. "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!"
A preliminary appraisal of the spacecraft by veteran astrophotographer Ralf Vandebergh of the Netherlands suggests the spherical prob is flaring – an abnormal occurrence that indicates perhaps more of its upper bus is still intact.