The GOCE satellite we reported to be falling to Earth has finally succumbed to gravity entirely, breaking up into dozens of remnants weighing 20-25% of its original one ton, reports the BBC. It didn’t strike any populated areas as it showered down this Sunday afternoon. Interestingly, the extremely low-orbiting observation satellite was designed in 2009 to run out of orbit-maintaining fuel right about now and fall, just, you know, anywhere. No big deal.
The debris is estimated to have fallen in a line stretching across East Asia, the Western Pacific and Antarctica. No one has reported being crushed to death by (or even seeing) any part of the so-called “space Ferrari” (because it looks cool.) The satellite’s last known position was 75 miles above Antarctica at 10:42 PM GMT on Sunday.
“Space junk” falling to Earth is common–something loses orbit every day, on average. This particular piece of space junk was special insofar as it was observed by a much wider array of Earth-bound facilities than usual. The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee had actually chosen GOCE as a case study. It was the first European Space Agency satellite in 25 years to make an uncontrolled reentry, the report said.
The ESA’s purpose for GOCE was to measure and map gravity differentiations all over the planet. Gravity is higher or lower depending on how low or high the land formations (or undersea crust formations) are. A detailed map of those gravity variations can apply to and augment countless fields of inquiry, such as civil engineering and climate change.
The irony of a gravity observation device falling down is not lost on us.