Satellite GOCE Falls; All Clear as Orbiting Object Disintegrates

Monday, 11 Nov 2013 12:32 PM

By Michael Mullins

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The falling GOCE satellite that caused some angst among sky watchers last week has disintegrated after reentering the Earth's atmosphere Sunday night causing no damage to individuals or property in the process.

The European satellite known as the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer or GOCE, descended back to earth while on an "orbit pass that extended across Siberia, the western Pacific Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean and Antarctica," according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

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"As expected, the satellite disintegrated in the high atmosphere and no damage to property has been reported," ESA added in a press release.


Having been launched in 2009, GOCE had for the past four years mapped the Earth's gravitational field.

Since running out of fuel on Oct. 21, the satellite has been gradually descending over the past three weeks, the Associated Press reported.

The ESA would did not say where the GOCE debris fragments hit the Earth's surface, only that approximately 25 percent of the one-ton satellite actually made impact, with the remainder apparently disintegrating upon reentry into the atmosphere.

Scientist had initially predicted the satellite would break apart into approximately 25 to 45 fragments, the largest of which could weigh up to 200 pounds.

"The one-ton GOCE satellite is only a small fraction of the 100–150 ton of man-made space objects that reenter Earth’s atmosphere annually," said Heiner Klinkrad, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office.

"In the 56 years of spaceflight, some 15,000 ton of man-made space objects have reentered the atmosphere without causing a single human injury to date."

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The $465-million mission gave way to the lowest flying satellite ever to encircle the earth at nearly 140 miles, according to NDTV.com.

In order to reduce the potential dangers associated with reentry of space debris, the United Nations adopted guidelines in 2008 requiring future spacecraft to be 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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