5,000-Lb. Satellite Predicted to Crash Through Earth’s Atmosphere Soon

The satellite was launched on Apr. 21, 1995, and had been described as “the most sophisticated Earth observation spacecraft ever developed” by Europe at the time



A satellite is expected to crash back down to Earth soon.

A defunct European Space Agency (ESA) satellite called ERS-2 is predicted to reenter Earth’s atmosphere sometime Wednesday, breaking apart and likely — entering the ocean, according to the ESA’s website.

The satellite weighs just over 5,000 lbs. (2294 kg), similar to the weight of an adult rhinoceros. It is expected to enter Earth’s atmosphere at around 12:05 p.m. ET Wednesday, though it could reenter up to .55 hours before then or after, per live updates from the ESA website.

As for the impact, the ESA said it likely won’t be much. As the satellite gets just under 50 miles above Earth’s surface, it is expected to “break up into fragments,” a majority of which will then burn up in the atmosphere before reaching Earth's surface, according to the ESA’s website.

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The agency also noted that the fragments that may reach the Earth would not “contain any toxic or radioactive substances,” and that there was an under 1 in a billion chance that a person would be hurt by space debris.

The satellite was launched on Apr. 21, 1995 and had been described as “the most sophisticated Earth observation spacecraft ever developed” by Europe at the time, per the agency's website. After 16 years of operations, the satellite went out of commission in 2011 and steps were taken to de-orbit the satellite.

Part of the de-orbiting process included using up the satellite's fuel, to “minimize the risk” of the satellite exploding and creating large “space debris” when it enters into the Earth’s atmosphere. The ESA also lowered its altitude so that it wouldn't collide with other satellites and would decay fast enough to reenter Earth’s atmosphere within 15 years.

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The satellite’s internal batteries were “depleted” and its communication antenna and onboard electronics were “switched off” as part of the process, which meant that the ESA would not be able to communicate with it or control where it landed.

Due to this, ESA staffers do not know exactly where the satellite will reenter the atmosphere and what its “trajectory” toward Earth will be. However, the ESA said that its “international network of partners” which includes the United States Space Surveillance Network and others, are working to help track ERS-2 with sensors.

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As of 12:35 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the ESA said, "We have now reached the end of the final reentry window. We have received no new observations of ERS-2. This may mean that the satellite has already reentered, but we are waiting for information from our partners before we can confirm."

The ESA will be providing further updates on its website.

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