A satellite falling back to Earth will be a likely scenario in the next few days. However, no one knows where GOCE, the European satellite in question, will fall.
The New York Times reported that the satellite could fall nearly anywhere back to the Earth and around 25 to 45 pieces of the spacecraft will survive coming through the Earth’s atmosphere. The largest fragment could weigh as much as 200 pounds.
“It’s rather hard to predict where the spacecraft will re-enter and impact,” Rune Floberghagen, the mission manager for the European Space Agency’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE), told the Times. “Concretely our best engineering prediction is now for a re-entry on Sunday, with a possibility for it slipping into early Monday.”
The satellite, the agency said, ran out of fuel and is dropping 2.5 miles per day on average. It is still 113 miles from the surface of the Earth.
The ESA stated that the liklihood of fragments hitting a person is “very low.”
“Taking into account that two-thirds of Earth are covered by oceans and vast areas are thinly populated, the danger to life or property is very low,” it said in a statement.
The website notes that GOCE will reenter the atmosphere sometime between Nov. 5 and Nov. 10.
Over the past four years, GOCE has been tasked with measuring the planet’s global gravity field.
“This innovative mission has been a challenge for the entire team involved: from building the first gradiometer for space to maintaining such a low orbit in constant free-fall, to lowering the orbit even further,” Volker Liebig, ESA’s director of Earth observation programs, told Spaceflightnow.com.
He added: “We have obtained the most accurate gravity data ever available to scientists. This alone proves that GOCE was worth the effort – and new scientific results are emerging constantly.”