European science satellite to break up late Sunday (Update)

Nov 08, 2013
Undated artists impression of the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer satellite which was placed in orbit in 2009 on a mission to monitor variations in gravity and sea levels

Fragments from a science satellite are likely to crash to Earth late Sunday or early Monday after the one-tonne probe breaks up at the end of its mission, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Friday.

In a statement, the agency said when and where the pieces would land was still unclear.

Experts have previously said the statistical risk to humans is remote.

Several dozen fragments totalling around 200 kilos (440 pounds), or about the weight of car engine, will survive contact with the atmosphere, according to computer models.

The Gravity Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite was placed in orbit in 2009 on a mission to monitor variations in gravity and sea levels.

The sleek, finned craft ran out of fuel on October 21, leaving it without power to maintain its altitude in low orbit, where there are still lingering molecules of air.

"Reentry of GOCE into Earth's atmosphere is predicted to occur during the night between Sunday and Monday," ESA said on Friday.

"Break-up of the spacecraft will occur at an altitude of approximately 80 km (50 miles). At the moment, the exact time and location of where the fragments will land cannot be foreseen."

GOCE was launched in March 2009 at an altitude of 260 kilometres (160 miles)—later lowered to 224 km—the lowest ever for a research satellite.

The 350-million-euro ($465-million) mission has lasted twice as long as its initially-scheduled 20 months.

According to ESA spacecraft operations manager Christoph Steiger, most of the 5.3-metre-long (17.2-foot) spacecraft will burn up.

The chances of a human being hit were about 65,000 times lower than getting struck by lightning, he said in October.

In more than half a century of spaceflight, there have been no casualties from man-made space debris, despite about 20-40 tonnes impacting somewhere on Earth each year, Steiger said.

GOCE was designed and built before 2008, when international recommendations were adopted that a scientific satellite must be able to execute a controlled reentry, or burn up completely after its mission.

Explore further: Innovative use of pressurant extends MESSENGER's mission, enables collection of new data

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Ferrari of space' set to fall to Earth

Sep 12, 2013

A science satellite dubbed the "Ferrari of space" for its sleek, finned looks will shortly run out of fuel and fall to Earth after a successful mission, the European Space Agency (ESA) says.

German satellite crashed 'into Bay of Bengal'

Oct 25, 2011

A German satellite the size of a car re-entered the Earth's atmosphere Sunday over the Gulf of Bengal, but it was not known if any debris hit the Earth, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) said on Tuesday.

GOCE's second mission improving gravity map

Nov 16, 2012

(Phys.org)—ESA's GOCE gravity satellite has already delivered the most accurate gravity map of Earth, but its orbit is now being lowered in order to obtain even better results.

European science satellite hit by glitch

Aug 23, 2010

A satellite designed to map Earth's gravitational field has been hit by a software glitch and is unable to send its science data back home, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Monday.

Recommended for you

The top 101 astronomical events to watch for in 2015

Dec 24, 2014

Now in its seventh year of compilation and the second year running on Universe Today, we're proud to feature our list of astronomical happenings for the coming year. Print it, bookmark it, hang it on your ...

NASA image: Frosty slopes on Mars

Dec 24, 2014

This image of an area on the surface of Mars, approximately 1.5 by 3 kilometers in size, shows frosted gullies on a south-facing slope within a crater.

User comments : 0

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.