European satellite burns up after plunging into Earth’s atmosphere

True colour satellite image of the Earth centred on Asia and Oceania with cloud coverage, during summer solstice at 6 a.m GMT. This image in orthographic projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., Globe Centred On Asia And Oceania, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
True colour satellite image of the Earth centred on Asia and Oceania with cloud coverage, during summer solstice at 6 a.m GMT. This image in orthographic projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., Globe Centred On Asia And Oceania. Credit: Getty Images

A 1-ton European science satellite plunged back into Earth’s atmosphere and incinerated with debris most likely landing in the southern regions of the Atlantic Ocean, officials said on Monday.

The last contact by ground tracking stations with Europe’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, known as GOCE, was at 5:42 p.m. EST  on Sunday as the spacecraft flew just 75 miles above Antarctica, the European Space Agency said.

Extrapolating from computer models, officials believe GOCE hit the upper atmosphere about 50 miles above the planet’s surface no later than 7:16 p.m. EST Sunday near the Falkland Islands.

“This would put the main area over which any possible GOCE remnants fell to the southernmost regions of the Atlantic Ocean,” the space agency wrote in a status report on its website.

“No damage to property has been reported from any debris,” the report said.

About 25 percent of the car-sized satellite was expected to have survived re-entry.

GOCE was launched in 2009 to map variations in Earth’s gravity. Scientists assembled the data into the first detailed global maps of the boundary between the planet’s crust and mantle, among other projects.

The satellite ran out of fuel on Oct. 21 and had been steadily losing altitude since, tugged by Earth’s gravity.

The 1.2-ton GOCE satellite is small in comparison to other spacecraft that recently crashed back into the atmosphere.

In January 2012, Russia’s failed 14-ton Phobos-Grunt Mars probe returned. In 2011, NASA’s 6.5-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite and Germany’s 2.4-ton  X-ray ROSAT telescope re-entered the atmosphere.

 


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