Old German satellite hurtles toward Earth

October 19, 2011 By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER , Associated Press
Undated artist rendering provided by EADS Astrium shows the scientific satellite Rosat. The German Aerospace Center said the retired satellite is hurtling toward the atmosphere and pieces could crash into the earth as early as Friday. Spokesman Andreas Schuetz told The Associated Press on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011 that most of the satellite named ROSAT, which is about the size of a minivan, will burn up during re-entry. (AP Photo/EADS Astrium)

A retired satellite is hurtling toward the atmosphere and pieces of it could crash into the Earth as early as Friday, the German Aerospace Center says.

Scientists are no longer able to communicate with the dead German satellite ROSAT, which orbits the earth every 90 minutes, and experts are not sure exactly where pieces of it could land.

Parts of the satellite, which is the size of a minivan, will burn up during re-entry but up to 30 fragments weighing a total of 1.87 tons (1.7 metric tons) could crash into the Earth sometime between Friday and Monday, center spokesman Andreas Schuetz told The Associated Press.

"All countries around the globe between 53-degrees north and 53-degrees south could possibly be affected," Schuetz said Wednesday - a vast swath of territory that includes much of the earth outside the poles.

The 2.69-ton (2.4 metric ton) scientific satellite was launched in 1990 and retired in 1999 after being used for research on and and performing the first all-sky survey of X-ray sources with an imaging telescope.

The largest single fragment of ROSAT that could hit into the earth is the telescope's heat-resistant mirror.

The satellite will re-enter the atmosphere at a speed of 17,400 mph (28,000 kph).

As it nears the Earth in coming days, scientists will be able to more accurately estimate exactly when it will land to a window of about 10 hours.

A dead satellite fell into the southern Pacific Ocean last month, causing no damage, despite fears it would hit a populated area and cause damage or kill people.

Experts believe about two dozen metal pieces from the bus-sized satellite fell over a 500-mile (800 kilometer) span of uninhabited portion of the world.

The NASA satellite entered Earth's atmosphere generally above American Samoa. But falling debris as it broke apart did not start hitting the water for another 300 miles (480 kilometers) to the northeast, southwest of Christmas Island.

Earlier, scientists had said it was possible some pieces could have reached northwestern Canada.

The German space agency puts the odds of somebody somewhere on Earth being hurt by its satellite at 1-in-2,000 - a slightly higher level of risk than was calculated for the . But any one individual's odds of being struck are 1-in-14 trillion, given there are 7 billion people on the planet.

Explore further: Dead NASA satellite will soon plummet to Earth

More information: The German space agency on ROSAT: http://bit.ly/papMAA


Related Stories

NASA says satellite will hit Earth Sept 23 US time

September 21, 2011

The US space agency has narrowed down its prediction of when a defunct six-ton satellite will crash back to Earth, saying on Wednesday that it is expected to land on September 23, US time.

NASA: Satellite fell in south Pacific, not Canada

September 27, 2011

That dead NASA satellite fell into what might be the ideal spot - part of the south Pacific Ocean about as far from large land masses as you can get, U.S. space officials said Tuesday.

German satellite hurtles towards Earth: officials

October 12, 2011

A German satellite around the size of a car is speeding towards Earth, officials said Wednesday, due to re-enter the atmosphere later this month but with little idea where fragments could land.

Recommended for you

Exiled exoplanet likely kicked out of star's neighborhood

December 1, 2015

A planet discovered last year sitting at an unusually large distance from its star - 16 times farther than Pluto is from the sun - may have been kicked out of its birthplace close to the star in a process similar to what ...

Cassini mission provides insight into Saturn

December 1, 2015

Scientists have found the first direct evidence for explosive releases of energy in Saturn's magnetic bubble using data from the Cassini spacecraft, a joint mission between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian ...

Timing a sextuple quasar

December 1, 2015

Quasars are galaxies with massive black holes at their cores around which vast amounts of energy are being radiated. Indeed, so much light is emitted that the nucleus of a quasar is much brighter than the rest of the entire ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.