A satellite launched in Europe is falling to earth. The problem is that no one knows where or when it will fall and, more importantly, how much damage it will do when it crashes.
The satellite, which has been mapping the earth’s gravitational field in detail, will be forced down to earth by gravity over the coming days.
The satellite could fall at any time and at any place on the globe, and at least 25 fragments of the one-ton spacecraft are expected to make it through the earth’s surface. The largest fragment could weigh up to 200 pounds.
It is thought that this year alone around 100 tons of space debris will fall to earth in what are referred to in the world of science as “uncontrolled entries.” Fortunately, to date there have been no reported injuries to humans by the falling of satellite debris, but this may only be a matter of time.
The ESA said in a statement about the threat of the satellite falling: “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.”
Rune Floberghagen, the mission manager for the European Space Agency, said: “It’s rather hard to predict where the spacecraft will re-enter and impact. Concretely our best engineering prediction is now for a re-entry on Sunday, with a possibility for it slipping into early Monday.”
Despite the satellite falling, the mission itself was a big success. Voljer Liebig, ESA’s director of Earth observation programs said: “This innovative mission has been a challenge for the entire team involved: from building the first gradiometer for space to maintaining such a low orbit in constant free-fall, to lowering the orbit even further. The outcome is fantastic. We have obtained the most accurate gravity data ever available to scientists. This alone proves that GOCE was worth the effort – and new scientific results are emerging constantly.”
It remains to be seen, when the satellite debris falls to earth, whether there will be a threat to human life or not. Regardless, the satellite managed to obtain vital information for the world of space discovery.