A dead satellite will fall to Earth this week

A defunct European Space Agency satellite the size of a school bus will fall to Earth this week, more than a decade after the spacecraft ended its mission to monitor Earth systems and natural disasters.

ESA's first advanced Earth-observation satellite, ERS-2, was launched on April 21, 1995. After 16 years of exploring Earth's land, oceans and polar caps, ESA ended its mission in 2011 and put the satellite into orbit. More space debris.

NASA, ESA and other members of the international space community have guidelines for lowering dead satellites and rocket parts into low Earth orbit.

“Most people now and over the last several years have designed their satellites to be disposed of in a responsible, responsible and controlled manner,” former NASA astronaut Leroy Xiao told Fox Weather. “At the end of life, the spacecraft is destined for what we call a spacecraft or satellite graveyard in the Indian Ocean, far from shipping lanes and far from any human activity.”

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For ERS-2, mission control sent a series of commands to the 38-foot-tall satellite to lower its altitude over 66 maneuvers until it was in an inertial orbit.

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The large satellite recently passed through Earth's atmosphere in late January and early February with other spacecraft in orbit. ESA said the images were taken by Australian firm HEO for the UK space agency showing the ERS-2 satellite falling into the atmosphere.

“The UK Space Agency recently teamed up with HEO to capture these images of ERS-2 during its descent,” ESA said. “Using cameras on other satellites to image objects re-entering the atmosphere is a relatively new approach. In the future, these images could be used along with data from ground-based sensors to refine re-entry predictions.”

A day before re-entry, ESA's Earth Observatory detected the satellite zooming in on Rome.

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When will the satellite fall towards earth?

In about 13 years, the satellite has naturally descended from its orbit about 350 miles from Earth until our planet's gravity pulls the spacecraft down and burns up in the atmosphere.

Because the spacecraft was on a “natural descent” trajectory, ESA could not predict exactly when or if the satellite would touch down on Earth, but estimated that it would happen in February 2024. As the destruction of the satellite nears, ESA is issuing updates.

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ESA's Space Debris Office released its latest re-entry forecast on Wednesday, saying the satellite will burn up in Earth's atmosphere at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, a gap of 1.4 hours plus or minus. The uncertainty of the landing and re-entry location decreases as the end of the spacecraft approaches.

At about 50 miles above Earth, the large satellite will break into smaller pieces, the ESA said. According to the space agency, the risks of satellite re-entry are minimal.

“It's expected that all of them will burn up, or maybe a few small pieces will survive re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. But that's not really a concern,” Xiao said. “The odds calculated by the European Space Agency are about one in 1.5 billion that some will be affected.”

ESA's Space Debris Office Regularly posting time updates.

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