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Satellite To Fall To Earth In November (But Don't Panic)

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Undated artists impression of the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite which is planned to lift off from Plesetsk on March 16, 2009. GOCE is dedicated to measuring Earth's gravity field and modelling the geoid with unprecedented accuracy and spatial resolution. Data from this advanced gravity mission will improve our knowledge of ocean circulation, which plays a crucial role in energy exchanges around the globe, sea-level change and Earth-interior processes.
Undated artists impression of the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite which is planned to lift off from Plesetsk on March 16, 2009. GOCE is dedicated to measuring Earth's gravity field and modelling the geoid with unprecedented accuracy and spatial resolution. Data from this advanced gravity mission will improve our knowledge of ocean circulation, which plays a crucial role in energy exchanges around the globe, sea-level change and Earth-interior processes.

The UK Space Agency has sent an email warning that a European satellite will plunge to Earth later this month - and there's no way to know where it's going to hit.

While stating that the risk of the satellite causing a danger to life or property is extremely small, it admitted that the satellite had no means to control its decent.

Since 2009 the GOCE satellite has mapped the fine details of Earth's gravitational field.

Now its time is up, and its path is already set. Instead of hanging around in orbit like so much other space junk, the satellite will instead fall towards the Earth and mostly break up in our atmosphere.

But while most of the hardware will disintegrate, the UK Space Agency said that "some smaller parts are expected to reach Earth’s surface".

"When and where these parts might land cannot yet be predicted, but the affected area will be narrowed down closer to the time of re-entry. This style of decommissioning may seem like a risky strategy but it’s actually one of the better options."

UKSA said that over the last 50 years an average of one piece of space debris has fallen back to Earth per day - and no injuries have ever been recorded (at least on the surface - damage to satellites has been known to have occured).

It adds that the plan to commission the satellite has been through a number of licensing and regulatory processes designed to minimise the impact.

"For lower altitude satellites like GOCE, immediate satellite de-orbiting upon end-of-life is the safest option. Those that aren’t immediately de-orbited are adding to the problem of congestion and have the potential to become space debris.

Now a major problem for the world’s space-faring nations, space junk can be very large, such as burnt-out rocket stages and dead spacecraft, or very small, such as flecks of paint.

Collisions with large pieces of junk can disable or even destroy a spacecraft, as happened to the French Cerise spacecraft in 1996."

So as it turns out there's no cause for alarm. But it might be worth investing in that extra-thick new steel umbrella you've had your eye on - just in case.

Also on The Huffington Post

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