Russian Satellite's Remnants Falling to Earth on Sunday

Saturday, 15 Feb 2014 08:06 PM

By Todd Beamon

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Pieces of Russia’s defunct Kosmos-1220 satellite — launched more than three decades ago — will come crashing to Earth on Sunday after a fiery, uncontrolled descent through the atmosphere, Russian officials said Saturday.

"The fragments are expected to fall on Feb. 16," Col. Alexei Zolotukhin told the Russian news agency Ria Novosti. "The exact impact time and location of the fragments from the Kosmos-1220 satellite may change due to external factors."

According to Fox News, Zolotukhin said that fragments of the Kosmos that survive the high-speed plunge to Earth will most likely end up in the Pacific Ocean.

The Soviet naval reconnaissance satellite was launched on Nov. 4, 1980, and was used to track the position of enemy naval forces via radio, radar and similar emissions. It was destroyed in orbit on June 20, 1982.

But the satellite's remnants could fall anywhere on Earth, Fox reports.

For instance, the GOCE satellite of the European Space Agency crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in November — while another Kosmos satellite crashed near the Great Slave Lake in Canada in 1978.

That crash, on Jan. 24, 1978, spread radioactive debris throughout more than 77,000 miles across the Northwest Territories, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. It required an extensive clean-up and caused much political fallout between the United States and the Canadian government.

In addition, a third Kosmos satellite crashed in 2009 at over 26,000 mph with a U.S. Iridium telecommunications satellite, sending thousands of pieces of space junk into orbit, Fox reports.

Creating additional uncertainty surrounding where the Kosmos-1220 satellite might end up is its size, according to the Ria Novosti news agency.

"Much of it will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, but no doubt fragments of Kosmos-1220 will reach Earth," David Eicher, editor of Astronomy magazine, told Fox in an e-mail.

"What we have going for us is that most of the planet is covered with water, and highly populated areas are in the minority of our planet’s surface area," Eicher added. "So it is unlikely that satellite debris will cause injuries or major damage. Still, with such a re-entry, we are playing the odds.

"This is a very real danger, given that a decaying orbit will carry this satellite down onto the planet."

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