Credit: Ralf Vandebergh

Retro fire yourself back to the 1970’s.

It was a time of Soviet Union/United States Cold War, space race, one-upmanship histrionics.

In late March 1972, the Soviet Union’s Cosmos 482 was launched – an attempted Venus probe that ran afoul during its rocket-powered escape to that cloud-veiled world.

A big chunk of that failed craft remains in Earth orbit today as space junk.

Venera 8
Credit: NPO Lavochkin

Telescopic looks

Ralf Vandebergh of the Netherlands has been taking telescopic looks at the errant Cosmos 482 remains for numbers of years. He explains that, in late June 1972, a smaller object separated from the main spacecraft, thought to be the lander (descent craft), and catalogued as piece E.

Recently, Vandebergh re-appraised images he had taken of the spacecraft leftovers, stacking the best data he obtained from 2014 observations.

“I stacked data of 2 imaging sessions and I’m pretty sure now that there is a compact object – presumably the descent module as stated by experts,” Vandebergh told Inside Outer Space. “However the interesting thing is that there seems to be a fainter elongated part that seems attached to the compact object. It is just very hypothetical, but I thought it could be possible that what we see is the parachute that came out of the lander when it separated from the main spacecraft.”

Venera 8 descent probe.
Credit: Hall of Venus/NPO Lavochkin

Inevitable descent

The former Soviet Union’s Cosmos 482 was a sister probe to Venera 8. That spacecraft in July 1972 became the second craft to land successfully on the surface of Venus. It relayed data from Venus’ hellish surface for 50 minutes and 11 seconds before succumbing to the harsh planetary conditions.

Meanwhile, adrift around Earth and headed, eventually, for an Earth reentry is the lost-to-space Cosmos 482 wreckage.

One key question that intrigues satellite spotters is whether the out-of-action spacecraft still includes its Venus entry capsule.

That Soviet-style contraption was built to withstand the heat of diving into Venus’ cloud-veiled planet’s thick atmosphere. That Venus lander mass is pegged at 1,091 lbs. (495 kilograms) and carries significant thermal protection.

Credit: Hall of Venus/NPO Lavochkin

So could this piece of space junk survive its inevitable descent back to its home planet.

According to – a website dedicated to real time satellite tracking – the Cosmos 482 leftovers are circuiting Earth in an orbit that’s 129 miles (207.6 kilometers) by 1,284 miles (2,065.7 kilometers).

Exactly when and where the wayward hardware could plummet back to Earth is uncertain. Some analysts peg its reentry between 2023 and late 2026.

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