Nov 7 (TruthDive): A sleek European satellite GOCE that mapped gravitational field of the Earth in exquisite detail will be pulled down by gravity to its fiery destruction sometime in the next few days, reports from the UK Space Agency said.
The satellite is coming back to Earth after exhausting its supply of xenon propellant last month, and European Space Agency ESA controllers say the solar activity could speed up the fiery fall of the spacecraft from orbit. But, the scientists are still unsure when or where the satellite debris will fall to Earth.
ESA’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE flew just 224 km above the planet. The satellite is designed as an aerodynamic shape for its low operating orbit. It measured the global gravity field of the planet over its four-and-a-half years in space. Its orbit goes almost directly over the poles, and as the planet rotates, almost all places on Earth pass beneath it at some point.
But last month, its special electric engine that maintains this altitude has run out of propellant and has been dropping about 2.5 miles a day. As on Wednesday (November 6), it was still 113 miles up as it circled the Earth once every 88 minutes.
About 25 to 45 fragments of the one-ton spacecraft are likely to survive all the way to the surface, and the largest piece of debris could weigh up to 200 pounds, reports said. In total, about 100 tons of debris will fall from the sky in 2013 alone. There are, however, no known cases in which anyone has been injured by space debris.
Dr. Rune Floberghagen, the mission manager for ESA’s GOCE said the debris will put about 15 to 20 square yards of the Earth’s surface in danger. “If you compare that to the surface of the planet, it’s a very small number,” he said.