2,000 pound satellite crash-landed on Earth

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

ESA GOCE
Imagine the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer crashing into the rose bushes outside. Not a pretty picture.

In 2009, the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) was launched into space. Its main job was to study different properties of the ocean and the Earth’s gravitational field. After running out of fuel about a month ago, the enormous satellite crashed somewhere on Earth this past Sunday, but scientists don’t know where.

To make matters worse, the GOCE weighs about 2,000 pounds and is the same size as a minivan. However, perhaps a minivan is not the best comparison, since the satellite is nicknamed the “Ferrari of space” due to its sleek and futuristic looks.

Ever since it ran out of gas in late October, the GOCE continued to creep closer and closer towards our planet. According to experts, it fell through the atmosphere on Sunday evening and was seen 75 miles over Antarctica. Given that about 70% of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, the GOCE most likely landed in an ocean, yet there’s still a chance bits and pieces may have landed on soil.

“Most of these fragments will completely burn up,” said Heiner Klinkrad, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office. “A small fraction of the initial spacecraft mass – about 20 percent or 200 kilograms [440 pounds] – is expected to reach ground, distributed across dozens of fragments, spread over a sizable re-entry ground swath.”

Since the satellite was launched from Russia, they’ll be responsible for any damages and injuries caused by GOCE.

“Basically, governments are responsible for their own spacecraft,” explained Marcia S. Smith, president of the Space and Technology Policy Group. “[If] you could prove a piece of GOCE hit your Honda, you could go to your government to make a claim.” If a piece did manage to make its way into your backyard, be sure to snap a picture and send the bill to Vladimir Putin!


Images courtesy of ESA.