November 11, 2013
No Damages Reported As GOCE Satellite Falls Back To Earth
[ Watch the Video: GOCE Safely Burns Up In The Atmosphere ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe OnlineA defunct satellite that had been mapping the Earth’s gravitational field fell back to Earth at approximately 7pm ET Sunday (01:00 CET Monday), the European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed.
The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) probe re-entered the planet’s atmosphere during a descending orbital pass extending across Siberia, the western Pacific Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean and Antarctica, the agency said. The satellite disintegrated in the high atmosphere, and there are no reports of property damage.
The agency originally warned of GOCE’s impending plummet on Thursday, but at the time they were unable to pinpoint exactly where or when the satellite would succumb to gravity and fall back to Earth. Experts had predicted that up to 45 pieces of debris, some weighing as much as 200 pounds, could find their way to the surface. Ultimately, an estimated 25-percent of the 2425-pound satellite reached the planet’s surface.
GOCE launched in March 2009, and during its mission it “mapped variations in Earth’s gravity with unrivaled precision,” the ESA said. “The result is the most accurate shape of the ‘geoid’ – a hypothetical global ocean at rest – ever produced, which is being used to understand ocean circulation, sea level, ice dynamics and Earth’s interior.” It managed to maintain a low orbit (under 260km) due to its “innovate” ion engine, the agency added.
The satellite’s mission came to an end when it ran out of fuel on October 21, and since then it has been gradually descending. Thanks to data provided by the satellite, scientists were able to make global maps of ocean currents, and the information will also help them study ice sheets and convection occurring in the planet’s mantle.
GOCE is far from the only orbiting spacecraft to fall back to Earth. In fact, according to Heiner Klinkrad, chief of the ESA’s Space Debris Office, between 100 and 150 metric tons of man-made space objects reenter the planet’s atmosphere each year, and in more than five decades of space flight, approximately 15,000 metric tons of man-made debris have reentered the atmosphere. To date, no person has been injured by such debris, he added.
“In 2011, media was abuzz with stories of NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite's descent to the planet. In the same year, Russia’s Mars mission went awry and crashed into the Pacific,” Nature World News added. “Scientists usually direct redundant satellites to a graveyard orbit, which is just above the GEO orbit. Other satellites are dropped back to earth using specialized equipment.”