A satellite sent up by the European Space Agency will soon fall down to the Earth by gravity to a fiery destruction sometime in the next couple of days.
The trouble is that no one has any idea when or where it will happen. Almost 25 to 45 remains of the 2000 pound space lab are likely to endure all the way to the Earth’s surface, with the biggest piece being nearly 20 pounds.
This is only the most recent in a procession of man-made space debris tumbling out of the sky. They are known as “uncontrolled entries.” Around 100 tons of wreckage has fallen from space just in this year. However, there are not any identified examples where any individuals have been hurt by the falling space remains.
There is no way to be able to predict when or where the spacecraft will come back to Earth and impact its surface, explained Rune Floberghagen, who is one of the mission supervisors for the European Space Agency. The best scientific prediction is approximately looking at it coming down on Sunday. But there is always a chance that it may fall on Monday.
The satellite goes by the name GOCE, which is pronounced “GO-chay”. It ran out of all its propellant in October and has now been falling around 2 miles each day. On Wednesday, the European Space Agency announced that it still was about 112 miles up as it continued to rotate the Earth one time each 88 minutes. Its orbit is about right over each of the poles, and as Earth rotates, just about every place around the world ends up going under it at some various point.
Any possibility of a piece of GOCE injuring someone on Earth is small, but not zero. Dr. Floberghagen stated that the rubble will threaten approximately 20 square yards of surface on the Earth. Yet, that is a very tiny number when the total area of the world is totaled up. Two recent satellites fell into the Pacific Ocean.
An uncontrolled entry back to Earth was always the way GOCE was planned to return by the European Space Agency when it was sent up back in March of 2009. It was different from the majority of spacecraft, because it did not have any thrusters to help get it into orbit. It used a very effective propulsion structure called an ion engine. This machine was able to fire uninterruptedly to counterbalance any atmospheric hindrance.
This let GOCE keep a low revolution, just being about 160 miles up. From that post, it was able to take gravity dimensions which were much more detailed and accurate than any prior ones.
The European Space Agency reported that in the gravity maps sent back, they were able to view geology in the photographs and that this was very unique.
The map information will also allow the agency to examine ice masses and heat within the mantle of the Earth. This should aid oil companies in finding places to drill.
Now that the ion tank is empty, the satellite has to be led by air pockets and gravity. GOCE is actually hovering like an airplane which has lost its engine.
As it drops down to denser air, the Earth’s atmospheric strain will pull on it hard, and its tumble is expected to speed up in a final plummet sometime between Sunday and Monday.
The European Space Agency says the satellite will soon fall to its final Earth destruction and the world will be watching to see if that happens come this weekend.
By Kimberly Ruble