Sunday, November 10, 2013

GOCE Space Junk Satellite Fell To Earth

GOCE Satellite.  Image Credit: ESA

UPDATE:  GOCE Has Fallen To Earth

Around 7:00 PM EST on Sunday, November 10, 2013, ESA’s GOCE satellite reentered Earth’s atmosphere on a descending orbit pass that extended across Siberia, the western Pacific Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean and Antarctica.

The European Space Agency estimates that a satellite weighing 2,425 pounds (1,100 kilograms) will fall somewhere on Earth anytime between 5:50 p.m. and 7:50 p.m. Eastern Standard Time in an uncontrolled descent from an orbital height of less than 74 miles (120 kilometers). 

According to the latest GOCE satellite status update at 5:50 p.m. on Sunday, November 10, 2013, last contact was made with the satellite at 5:42 EST by Antarctica’s Troll station.  Based on data collected by the last contact, ESA scientists now calculate that the most probable re-entry area lies on a descending orbit pass that mainly runs across the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

If GOCE has not yet fallen over Antartica by 7 PM EST, the satellite's path then goes over mostly Argentina and northwest Brazil in South America, then the Caribbean, followed by a pass along the east coast of the United States in North America by 8 p.m.

The satellite's central computer temperature was at 80ºC and the battery is at 84ºC.  At an altitude of less than 120 km, the spacecraft is - against ESA expectations - still functional.

The ESA cautioned that, while most of the satellite will disintegrate in the atmosphere, several parts might reach Earth’s surface.  Exactly when and where the space junk debris will crash cannot yet be predicted, but the affected area excludes Europe and is likely to encompass oceans and the polar regions of Earth.

Because two-thirds of Earth is covered by oceans and vast land areas are thinly populated, the ESA reasoned that danger to life or property is very low.  An international campaign is monitoring the descent, which includes the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee.  The situation is being continuously watched by ESA’s Space Debris Office, which will issue reentry predictions and risk assessments.  The ESA will also keep its Member States and the relevant safety authorities permanently updated.

The satellite, named Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer or "GOCE", has spent more than four years mapping Earth’s gravity.  To accomplish this scientific task, GOCE has been orbiting Earth since March 2009 at the lowest altitude of any research satellite.

Dubbed the ‘Ferrari of space’ because of its sleek, aerodynamic design to minimize atmospheric drag, GOCE has mapped variations in Earth’s gravity with extreme detail.