ESA Satellite To Re-enter Atmosphere This Week

Rendering of ERS-2 satellite | Image by European Space Agency

The European Space Agency’s ERS-2 satellite is expected to end its 29-year journey, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere this week.

The European Space Agency (ESA) expects the craft to make its re-entry on February 21. The latest prediction from scientists is that the craft will enter the atmosphere at about 16:32 UTC (10:32 a.m. CT), however, “unpredictable solar activity” impacting the density of the atmosphere has created uncertainty of about 4.5 hours.

“As the spacecraft’s reentry is ‘natural’, without the possibility to perform manoeuvers, it is impossible to know exactly where and when it will re-enter the atmosphere and begin to burn up,” reads the ESA’s re-entry page for the satellite. Scientists continue to monitor the trajectory of the craft.

“The vast majority of the satellite will burn up, and any pieces that survive will be spread out somewhat randomly over a ground track on average hundreds of kilometres long and a few tens of kilometres wide (which is why the associated risks are very, very low),” reads the latest update from the ESA.

The ERS-2 satellite was originally launched on April 21, 1995, with the mission of gathering data on aspects and processes on the earth’s surface, such as its oceans and polar caps, and even natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. The craft was the ESA’s “most sophisticated Earth observation spacecraft” at the time of its launch.

“The ERS-2 mission has provided invaluable long-term data on the impacts human activity has on our planet, providing striking information on flooding, sea level rise, ice loss and ground subsidence,” reads the ESA’s website. “The data acquired by the mission also serve long-term global records of essential climate variables, helping scientists track changes associated with the climate change challenge.”

The craft completed its mission in September 2011, and despite the satellite still functioning, scientists began the process of destabilizing its orbit. The craft was lowered to a distance of about 356 miles above Earth, and the agency began the process of disposing of the satellite’s batteries and remaining fuel and turning off all of its instruments for its eventual re-entry as its orbit decayed over the years.

The satellite is the most recent spacecraft to end its mission by burning up in the atmosphere. Astrobotic Technolgy’s Peregrine Mission One lunar lander had a controlled re-entry in the South Pacific Ocean on January 18 after propulsion failures prevented the craft from achieving its primary mission on the lunar surface, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

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