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  • Writer's pictureBrad Larsson | Aificial Science

Space agency shows where satellite crashed through Earth's atmosphere

A satellite made an uncontrolled return to Earth Wednesday, re-entering the atmosphere over the north Pacific Ocean between Alaska and Hawaii, according to the the European Space Agency

The agency said ERS-2, which weighs about as much as an adult male rhinoceros, crashed through the atmosphere at 5:17 p.m. UTC. The agency was unable to predict exactly when and where the satellite would re-enter because its return was "natural."

What is a natural return?

ERS-2's batteries were depleted and its communication antenna and onboard electronics were switched off, which means there's no way to actively control the motion of the satellite from the ground during its descent, the European Space Agency said. The last of ERS-2's fuel was used up back in 2011 to minimize the risk of a catastrophic explosion capable of generating a large amount of space debris. 

Is there any danger as ERS-2 returns?

Most of the satellite will burn up as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere, with some remaining fragments likely to fall into the ocean, according to the space agency. None of the fragments will contain any toxic or radioactive substances.

The space agency added that the annual risk of a person being injured by space debris is under 1 in 100 billion, or 65,000 times lower than the risk of being struck by lightning.

What was ERS-2 doing in space?

The satellite was launched on April 21, 1995 as an Earth observation spacecraft. It was used to collect data on Earth's land surfaces, oceans and polar caps. ERS-2 was also used to monitor natural disasters, such as severe flooding and earthquakes.  

Its mission ended in 2011, when the European Space Agency began deorbiting the satellite.

The deorbiting process helps prevent collisions in orbit and mitigates the creation of space debris. 

ERS-2's remaining fuel was used up as it was deorbited. The satellite's average altitude was also lowered.


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