The dead rhino-sized European satellite has re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the North Pacific Ocean, between Alaska and Hawaii.
The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed the re-entry of European Remote Sensing 2 (ERS-2) on Wednesday at 2:59 p.m. ET (7:59 GMT).
The satellite was first launched on April 21, 1995 to study the land, oceans and polar caps of our planet; It was decommissioned in 2011.
ESA had prepared for re-entry today, but spent hours monitoring the skies without confirmation that the satellite had fallen back to Earth.
ERS-2 broke into pieces as it passed through the atmosphere, and while there was no guarantee it wouldn’t hit someone, ESA said the annual risk of a human being injured by space debris is less than one in 100 billion.
The dead, runaway rhino-sized European satellite has re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the North Pacific Ocean, between Alaska and Hawaii.
ERS-2 weighs just over 5,000 pounds, about the same as an adult rhino.
ESA had estimated reentry would occur at 10:49 a.m. ET, but the satellite continued orbiting Earth for about an hour more and the agency did not receive confirmation that it fell into the ocean until the afternoon.
The uncertainty was due to ‘the influence of unpredictable solar activity, which affects the density of the Earth’s atmosphere and, therefore, the drag experienced by the satellite,’ ESA shared in a statement.
What’s more, it was not until the last 24 hours that ESA identified the target of the accident.
However, the data had pointed to the satellite’s re-entry in southeastern Africa, potentially in northern Mozambique or central Malawi, areas inhabited by people.
Dr. James Blake, a space debris researcher at the University of Warwick, said this is just one of thousands of active and defunct satellites orbiting Earth.
The European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed the re-entry of ERS-2 on Wednesday at 2:59 pm ET, which was first launched on April 21, 1995 to study our planet’s land, oceans and polar caps. ; It was dismantled in 2011.
Image of ERS-2 captured from space by HEO – an Australian company with an office in the United Kingdom – taken by other satellites between January 14 and February 3. It shows ERS-2 as it rotates on its return journey to Earth. The UK agency says they have been shared with ESA to help track ERS-2 re-entry.
ERS-2 is the last to embark on the return leg of its journey to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
“This is the fate that awaits uncontrolled satellites and debris that can no longer counteract the drag forces exerted by the Earth’s atmosphere,” said Dr Blake.
“In fact, operators are encouraged to accelerate the re-entry of their missing satellites to free up space for future missions.”
ESA has conducted deorbitation maneuvers since the satellite was decommissioned to deplete its fuel and allow ground controllers to reduce its altitude from 487 miles (785 km) to 356 miles (573 km).
At that time, experts wanted to minimize the risk of collision with other satellites or increasing the cloud of “space debris” that currently surrounds our planet.
Since then, ERS-2 has been in a period of “orbital decay,” meaning it has been getting closer and closer to Earth as it orbits the planet.
Illustrated timeline of the European Remote Sensing Satellite 2 (ERS-2) mission provided by ESA, which estimates it will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at 11:14 GMT (6:14 am ET) on Wednesday (21 February)
ERS-2 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up once its altitude dropped to about 50 miles (80 km), about one-fifth the distance of the International Space Station (ISS).
At that altitude, the satellite broke into fragments and most of it burned up in the atmosphere, but some fragments may have reached the Earth’s surface, where they “probably fell into the ocean,” according to ESA.
“None of these fragments will contain toxic or radioactive substances,” the agency said.
ERS-2 was launched in 1995, following its sister satellite, ERS-1, which had launched four years earlier.
Both satellites carried the latest high-tech instruments, including a radar altimeter (which sends pulses of radio waves toward the ground) and powerful sensors to measure ocean surface temperature and offshore winds.
ERS-2 had an additional sensor to measure the ozone content in our planet’s atmosphere, which is important for blocking radiation from the sun.
ERS-1 is no longer operational, having suffered a malfunction in 2000, but its exact whereabouts are unknown.