A dead NASA spacecraft is set to fall from space and crash into the Earth on Wednesday — and there’s a 1 in 2,500 chance it will kill someone.
The US space agency has revealed that the 600-pound piece of technology — similar to a vending machine — will enter Earth’s atmosphere at 9:30 p.m. ET, with most of it burning up in the sky.
But some components will survive the landing and NASA warns “there is a risk of harm to anyone … 1 in 2,467.”
Where the impact zone will remain is not clear, NASA should share updates about the craft after it crashes to Earth.
Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) was tasked with monitoring solar flares before it was shut down in 2018 after NASA failed to communicate with it.
This will be the second retired NASA satellite to hit Earth this year. The previous one was a 5,400-pound machine that dropped in January.
The Reuven Ramaty 600-pound High-Power Solar Imaging Spectroradiometer detected solar flares when it was launched in 2002. It was decommissioned in 2018 and is scheduled to return to Earth on Wednesday.
RHESSI was launched in 2002 to monitor solar flares and coronal mass ejections from its low Earth orbit, helping scientists understand how such powerful bursts of energy from our sun are created.
The reentry window is now more or less 11 hours from Tuesday, and forecasts cover half a million miles, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told DailyMail.com.
This means that experts are not yet sure where the debris will fall.
While McDowell isn’t too concerned about damage from RHESSI, NASA’s predictions show that it has a higher chance of hitting someone on the ground than it does being hit by a car.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that the odds of being hit by a motor vehicle in the United States are about 1 in 4,292.
RHESSI launched aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from Orbital Sciences Corporation on February 5, with the goal of imaging the high-energy electrons that carry a large portion of the energy emitted by solar flares.
He achieved this with his only instrument, the Imaging Spectroradiometer, which records X-rays and gamma rays from the Sun.
Prior to RHESSI, no high-energy gamma-ray or X-ray images of solar flares had ever been taken.
Data from RHESSI provided vital clues about solar flares and associated coronal mass ejections.
The resting place of the remaining fragments is not yet known, but NASA said the “risk of harm to anyone on Earth is low.”
These events release energy equivalent to billions of megatons of TNT into the solar atmosphere in a matter of minutes and can have effects on Earth, including disrupting electrical systems. Understanding them has proven challenging.
RHESSI recorded more than 100,000 X-ray events during its mission period, allowing scientists to study energetic particles in solar flares.
The imager helped the researchers determine the particle’s frequency, position, and motion, allowing them to understand where the particles were accelerating.
The vehicle was decommissioned in 2018 due to communications difficulties.
It’s not uncommon for small craft to return to Earth, McDowell said, but NASA rarely announces such events.
The last time the agency notified the public was on Jan. 6 when the retired Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS) re-entered Earth’s atmosphere at 11:04 p.m. ET.
The Department of Defense confirmed that the 5,400-pound satellite has re-entered the atmosphere over the Bering Sea. NASA expected most of the satellite to burn up as it traveled through the atmosphere, but for some components to survive re-entry.
And NASA only shared one more satellite in 2020 — the Orbiting Geophysical Observatory 1 (OGO-1) spacecraft.
Launched in 1964, this satellite collected data about Earth’s magnetic environment and how our planet interacts with the sun and was decommissioned in 1971.
It returned home on August 29, 2020 over the South Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Tahiti and the Cook Islands.
The spacecraft crashed into the atmosphere and posed no threat to our planet – or anyone on it.