The Grunt

So there I was, all ready to write a nice pedestrian little academic piece about hats and then I was told a Russian space probe might land on me at any moment.

This reads a little like a sci-fairy tale: for its central character is the Phobus Grunt.

They threw a celestial stick for the Grunt back in November and it charged off into space in hot pursuit, reaching a ‘parking orbit’ at about 375km above earth to catch its breath and wag its little grunty tail before haring off into deep space and Mars, to eat the red planet’s moon rocks.

But anyone who looks at the Grunt’s girth knows it has been fed a little too much. It is a squat little probe weighing some 13 tonnes, and it needs some fearsome engine power to squeeze it through our atmosphere. There was some heaving to be done of the Grunt’s bottom.

Two heaves, actually: the first, lasting eleven and a half minutes, would haul the affable Grunt to 4,000km for a four-hour look at the earth from space; the second haul would position him squarely on a path for Mars which even a portly Grunt could follow.

But alas: the process of winching the little Russian probe into deep space was flawed.

The engines failed to fire; and without sufficient energy to send him out on his way, the Grunt has been faffing about in space waiting for stuff to happen.

All communication with the Grunt has failed, and he cannot hear his owners gabbling in dismayed Russian down there on the surface: “Grunt….this way! Grunt! Will you put the stick down and leave the other satellites alone and COME. HERE!!!”

Instead, like many of us terrestrial dog owners, there is nothing for it but to watch the Grunt’s trajectory as it plummets with abandon towards earth.

The Grunt has attracted huge audiences. Everyone who is anyone and some people who aren’t anyone are tracking the Russian probe and trying to predict where it will land.

It is a sad fact that the Grunt will not survive re-entry. Its portly little frame will explode in a firework display which will light up the sky, as 10 tonnes of fuel goes up in smoke, and then large shards of the 2.5 tonnes of hardware will drop like a stone, who knows where.

The reporters of the news networks are having a field day. And this morning Phil informed me that tomorrow a Russian space probe might land on me.

His source was not the BBC but SKY News, whose headline read “Spacecraft could crash on M4 Corridor.”

Occasionally, our news makers betray the fact that we are in fact a very small set of islands. While some would read only the first few paragraphs and go about customising their Land Rovers to withstand the weight of shards of space debris, further investigation revealed: “Chief engineer at the UK Space Agency,Β Professor Richard Crowther said it is expected to explode as it enters the atmosphere, scattering debris along a 200km track – anywhere between the M4 corridor and the Falkland Islands.”

So: the chances of the Grunt ending up on top of Ascot or Maidenhead or Windsor Castle are slimmer than it ever was.

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40 thoughts on “The Grunt

  1. As I think more and more about all the space junk circling our puny globe, it amazes me that there isn’t more frequent impaling of us mortals as we queue for our lattes and caramel macchiatos. I mean, how MANY pieces of flying remnants are actually taking aim at us this very moment?!! For a n idea, check this link
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/06/science/space/06orbi.html?pagewanted=all

    And the Chinese just sent up an anti-satellite rocket that shattered an old satellite into 1000 pieces, all of which could conceivably start a mating process with all those other pieces over 4 inches in length making it even more possible for the bombardment of earth to increase dramatically.

    Come to think of it, I think this is how the Daleks came into being.

    1. Amazing link to the NY Times, Lou: so it seems it’s just a matter of time before a set of collisions from space sends debris raining down on earth! Now we need a vanishing spell!

      1. How cool, a reference to spells to keep the upcoming spellbinder in our thoughts. Oh Kate, you are a sly one. πŸ™‚

  2. They do like to try and scare us these news people, don’t they Kate? They’re always worst case scenario this and what if that. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve heard of the M4 but have no idea where its corridor is, so it mustn’t be within my local vicinity. Which, according to the news, puts me in as much of the firing line as everyone else on the planet! But, I agree with Pseu -it was an utter waste of money…

  3. That is a rather large corridor – the kind of thing, no doubt, that has fearmongers of all sorts rubbing their hands in glee… So, is this a hat story or not? – or does it depend on where exactly the Grunt falls? πŸ˜€

  4. Are you certain it’s all not a mislaid script for either Dr. Who or Spooks? Russians? Space probes…

    Either, way, watch your head on the M4, I guess.

    I would also just like to say that it’s a charming, squat little thing, and I feel a little bad for it.

  5. It will fall where they’re least predicting it, I’m sure……..I will start watching my head when I go outdoors. πŸ™‚

    I hope you and yours avoid the Grunt Apocalypse. πŸ™‚

  6. As if there isn’t just enough to think about, right? Truthfully this story has had some attention in our news markets also, and we realized the other day, with a little concern, that Sophia had heard the story on the radio and was feeling a little anxiety. The reporter made some comment that did indeed have apocalyptic overtones–as only they can do it! You’ve added a little meat to the story for me. I won’t be sharing it with a preschooler, but I’m glad to know more! Even happier if it avoids all of us! Debra

    1. We’re taking the whole thing with a pinch of salt here, Debra: and as I listen to the news I believe it’s headed off for the seas around Chile. A storm in a teacup: but as you say, not one to share with preschoolers!

  7. If you’ve ever seen a representation of all the junk currently orbiting the earth, you’d wonder how they find room to put anything else up there. It’s amazing to me that more people haven’t been killed when it comes falling back to earth. I guess we’re lucky so much of the earth’s surface is uninhabitable ocean.

    Y’all keep your heads down tomorrow … er, today.

  8. “The Russian space agency says little of the probe will survive to the surface.

    It calculates no more than 200kg in maybe 20-30 fragments.

    Precisely where on the Earth’s surface – and when – this material could impact is impossible to say, however. There are huge uncertainties in forecasting the final moments of a re-entry.

    “The major uncertainty for prediction is the atmospheric density the spacecraft encounters in orbit, but it’s also due to the orientation of the vehicle as it comes in,” explained Prof Richard Crowther, the UK Space Agency’s chief engineer.

    “It can very quickly tumble and if pieces break off – that all changes the trajectory and where debris might impact.” ”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16491457

    That’s reassuring then?

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