A satellite put into orbit around the Earth by the European Space Agency called the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer or GOCE has completed its mission. Rather than leaving the satellite aimlessly orbiting the planet forever, the ESA is having the satellite reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. The satellite weighs about ton and experts believe that some parts of the satellite will impact the surface of the earth.
Estimates expect that the satellite will break into 25 to 45 pieces during reentry that will impact the surface of the planet on Sunday, November 10 or Monday, November 11. The satellite is 16-feet long and is interesting in its construction because it has no moving parts. The satellite entering the Earth’s atmosphere is no accident and was intended to occur since the satellite was originally placed into orbit.
ESA Director of Earth Observation Programs Volker Liebig said:
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.
Scientists working for the ESA are still trying to get more accurate details on where the remaining components of the satellite will hit. The day before the satellite is set to reenter the atmosphere, the scientists hope to have a 4 to 5 hour window for reentry and down. When the satellite was conducting its mission it orbited the earth every 80 min.
The satellite ran out of fuel on October 21 and has been steadily falling into the Earth’s atmosphere ever since. The satellite is reportedly flying like an airplane without an engine with the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere providing aerodynamic stabilization. Initially the satellite lost about one mile of altitude per day, but it is now falling at a rate of several miles per day.
The scientists say there is a two in three chance that anything entering the atmosphere from space will hit water. If components leftover from the satellite do impact land, odds are it will be in Canada, Siberia, the Sahara, Antarctica, or another uninhabited part of the world. Scientists say there’s only about a 7% chance parts will land near people.