Gravity Satellite Mission To End This Fall
September 14, 2013

ESA’s GOCE Satellite Will Run Out Of Gas In Mid-October, Before Plummeting Back To Earth

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

After four years of working to map out Earth's gravity, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) mission is nearing its end. The satellite, which has been orbiting Earth since 2009 at the lowest altitude of any research satellite, will reenter our atmosphere soon.

GOCE has been called the "Ferrari of space" because of its sleek, aerodynamic design. This designer spacecraft has mapped variations in Earth's gravity with extreme detail, resulting in a unique model of the "geoid", which is essentially a virtual surface where water does not flow from one point to another.

The spacecraft will run out of fuel in mid-October and the satellite will begin its descent towards Earth from a height of about 224 km above the planet.

Most of GOCE is expected to disintegrate in the atmosphere, but the control team says that several parts might reach the planet's surface.

It is unknown when and where these parts might land, but the scientists expect to narrow the affected area closer to time for reentry, which is expected to occur around three weeks after the fuel is depleted.

The expected danger to life or property is very low as approximately two-thirds of the Earth is covered by oceans and vast areas are thinly populated.

Each year, around 40 tons of space debris reaches the ground, but the spread and size means that a person's risk of being struck is lower than that of being hit by a meteorite.

An international campaign involving the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee is monitoring the descent. The ESA's Space Debris Office is also monitoring the descent and will issue reentry predictions and risk assessments. ESA will continue to update its member states and the relevant safety authorities.