European satellite crashes to Earth
The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE, satellite crashed to Earth Monday, according to the European Space Agency. ESA officials say approximately 25 percent of the 1.2-ton spacecraft hit the Atlantic Ocean; the rest burned as it passed through the atmosphere.
Nicknamed “Ferrari in space” because of its light and sleek design, GOCE has been in a low-Earth orbit since 2009, mapping variations in the planet’s gravity field. On October 21 it ran out of xenon gas fuel for its booster rockets, and has steadily drifted back toward Earth.
This uncontrolled re-entry has always been the plan for the GOCE and many other satellites. Most of the debris lands in the sea or in unpopulated areas, ESA says, and a recent international agreement requires low-orbit spacecraft to have a directional reentry, allowing them to crash into the ocean.
“In total since Sputnik was launched, about 15,000 tons have returned from space,” said Heiner Klinkrad, the ESA’s Head of Space Debris. “Typically between 10 and 40 percent of the initial mass survives such a re-entry. Velocity upon impact is between 200 and 300 hundred kilometres an hour, which is a speed that you can achieve on German motorways with a good-sized car.”
For more on this story, visit the European Space Agency.