Tags: satellite | falling | earth

Satellite Falling to Earth, But No One Knows Where, Prompting Fears

Thursday, 07 Nov 2013 07:03 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A falling satellite will crash down to Earth in the coming days, but exactly when and where the spacecraft will make impact has yet to be determined.

The European satellite known as the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer or GOCE, was launched in 2009 and has mapped the Earth's gravitational field for the past four years.

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It is likely to make impact late Sunday into Monday, according to Rune Floberghagen, the European Space Agency’s mission manager for satellite, The New York Times reported.

"It’s rather hard to predict where the spacecraft will re-enter and impact," Floberghagen told The Times. "Concretely our best engineering prediction is now for a re-entry on Sunday, with a possibility for it slipping into early Monday."

When it does crash to the Earth, the one-ton spacecraft will break apart into 25 to 45 fragments, the largest of which could weigh up to 200 pounds.

The European Space Agency released a statement in September in an attempt to ease fears that a 200-pound piece of space debris could injure or kill people.

"Taking into account that two-thirds of Earth are covered by oceans and vast areas are thinly populated, the danger to life or property is very low," the statement read.

Still, there is a chance the debris could hit people. This year alone, approximately 100 tons of debris will fall from the sky, The Times noted.

In the case of the GOCE, anyone standing within 15 to 20 square yards of where the debris falls will likely be impacted, according to Floberghagen.

To reduce the dangers associated with space debris, the United Nations adopted guidelines in 2008 requiring that future spacecraft is equipped with thrusters to ensure safer endings.

The GOCE had already been designed when the guidelines were adopted by the UN.

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