The European satellite, called the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (or GOCE), has been out of fuel since late October and will fall back to Earth sometime in the next several days. No one knows where it’ll land.
The New York Times reports that quite a few fragments of this one-ton “Ferrari of space” (so nicknamed for its sleek design) are expected to reach all the way to the surface of the earth. The chance for the re-entry to cause harm or damages is very tiny, but not completely impossible.
The satellite, launched in March 2009, was used to map the earth’s gravitational field. It’s not the first time a spent spacecraft has plunged back to earth. Two years ago, a decommissioned NASA satellite crashed into the Pacific Ocean, but not before inspiring much distress about where it would land. Last year, a Russian spacecraft also fell into the Pacific without causing harm.
But as these “uncontrolled entries” become more and more frequent, should we be alarmed?
Stephen Clark, a reporter for the publication, Spaceflight Now, based in Florida