TechOut of control satellite spiralling towards Earth, experts say the risk is 'shallow'

Out of control satellite spiralling towards Earth, experts say the risk is 'shallow'

Scientists recorded strange signs in the sky.
Scientists recorded strange signs in the sky.
Images source: © The text remains unchanged: esa.com
12:56 AM EST, February 20, 2024

The satellite has been in orbit for nearly 30 years. It's expected to reenter Earth's atmosphere on Wednesday, breaking down into several pieces upon reentry, most of which will burn up.

Because the satellite's motion is no longer under any control, the exact prediction of its reentry time and landing location remains uncertain. However, as the event draws nearer, specialists can forecast its trajectory with increasing accuracy.

On Monday, the European Space Agency (ESA) projected that the satellite will enter our atmosphere on Wednesday, around 5:14 a.m. Eastern Time.

However, this is not a certainty. The unpredictability of solar activity on the day could potentially cause the reentry to occur up to 15 hours before or after the predicted time.

The Agency published photos of the descending satellite on Monday. These images were captured between January 14 and February 3, when the ERS-2 satellite was more than 186 miles high. It is currently approximately 124 miles high, descending at an average speed of 6.21 miles per day. The closer the satellite is to Earth, the faster its speed.

The satellite will begin to disintegrate and burn up when it reaches an altitude of around 49.71 miles.

The risk associated with the satellite reentry is very low. The European Space Agency has confirmed that none of the fragments will contain any toxic or radioactive substances.

ERS-2's Mission Spanned 16 Years

The ERS-2 satellite was initially launched in 1995. At that time, it was Europe's most advanced Earth observation spacecraft.

"It provided new insights into our planet, including the chemical composition of our atmosphere, ocean behaviour, and the impact of human activities on our environment," stated Mirko Albani, head of the Heritage Space program at the ESA.

After 16 years in orbit, the ESA ended the satellite's mission and triggered its "deorbit."

In order to expedite the ERS-2 reentry into the atmosphere, the remaining fuel was depleted and its orbit was lowered to 356 miles. This strategy significantly minimized the risk of a collision with other space objects and reduced the satellite's time in orbit from over 100 years to just under 15.

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