A European Satellite Fell Apart in Earth's Atmosphere


The European satellite GOCE - Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer fell apart and burned up in Earth's atmosphere.

The satellite-laboratory fell apart on November 11 at about 1 AM European time without causing any damage during its fall to Earth.

The weight of the satellite, belonging to the European Space Agency weighed 2400 lbs (1.2 tons), and was created to study the gravitational field of the Earth and the currents of the oceans.

At about 3 AM Eastern European time, the satellite entered Earth's atmosphere and came apart in its upper regions.

According to the agency's data, the satellite is in orbit at an altitude of around 99.4 miles (160 km).

The predictions made stated that the machine would enter Earth's atmosphere on November 10 at 23:02 Greenwich Mean Time.

It was launched in 2009 by the Russian spaceport Plesetsk with the space launch vehicle "Rokot".

On March 11, 2011 the satellite was able to register sound waves that predicted the powerful earthquake in Japan.

The European satellite was also able to determine the parameters of ocean currents.

On October 21st of this year the stockpile of xenon aboard the satellite was depleted and it gradually began to lose altitude.


Originally, the GOCE mission was planned to last 20 months but the European Space Agency extended it until the end of 2012, after it became apparent that fuel consumption was less than expected.

The altitude of the satellite above the Earth was lowered from 158 miles (255 km) to 139 miles (224 km).

The on-board computer and instruments are still functioning and scientists are still receiving data in real-time.

The satellite entered Earth's atmosphere above the territory of Siberia in the west part of the Pacific Ocean, the east part of the Indian Ocean and Antarctica.

It is expected that 1/4th of the mass of the satellite will actually reach the surface of the Earth, which will fragment into 30 to 40 pieces.

Despite the speculation in much of the media about catastrophic consequences, scientists do not expect any debris from the satellite to cause any problems on Earth's surface.

This is the first uncontrolled falling satellite in the past 25 years of space exploration.

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