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Out of fuel GOCE satellite to crash-land on Earth Sunday afternoon

By Jeremy A. Kaplan /
Published November 10, 2013 /

Scientists at ESA's Space Debris Office are closely monitoring the re-entry of the GOCE satellite. (ESA/J. Mai)

The GOCE satellite's orbit is so low that it experiences drag from the outer edges of Earth's atmosphere. (ESA /AOES Medialab)

An artist's impression of the GOCE satellite in orbit. In order to precisely measure the planet's gravity, the sleek, 16-foot long satellite is designed to orbit at a very low altitude -- just 160 miles above the Earth. (AOES Medialab)

A precise model of Earth's 'geoid' -- essentially a virtual surface map of where water does not flow from one point to another -- is crucial for deriving accurate measurements of ocean circulation and sea-level change. In this map from GOCE, colors represent deviations in height (100 m to +100 m) from an ideal geoid. (ESA/HPF/DLR)

A 2,000-pound European satellite has run out of fuel and will plunge back to Earth sometime between 5:30 P.M. EST and 7:30 P.M., a spokesman for Europe's Space Debris Office told

As of 3:00 P.M. it was buzzing Africa's Western shores preparing to cross the Atlantic Ocean en route to Greenland. Its next orbit will bring it closer to North America's East Coast. Where precisely it will crash remains up in the air.

GOCE Facts and Figures
Full name: Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer

Launched: March 17, 2009

Launch site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia

Mission control: European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), Darmstadt, Germany

Number of instruments: 3

Mission cost: $470 million (including launcher and operations)

Mass: 2,425 pounds

Size: 17.4 feet long, about 3 feet body diameter

Propulsion tank: 88 pounds of xenon

As the whizzing GOCE -- or Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer -- descends, scientists are carefully monitoring it to determine the landing site and ensure public safety.

"We've seen the spacecraft again over Kiruna" in Sweden, wrote Christoph Steiger, GOCE Operations Manager for ESA, on the agency's Rocket Science blog. "GOCE is still doing great."

With each orbit, it descends from a current altitude of under 78 miles by about 0.6 miles per hour.

"With a very high probability, a re-entry over Europe can be excluded," wrote Heiner Klinkrad, head of ESA's Space Debris Office, Sunday morning. Klinkrad, who is closely monitoring the GOCE re-entry, cited radar measurements and satellite-to-satellite tracking.

“The most probable impact ground swath runs over oceans and polar regions, as well as uninhabited areas of Australia,” he said.

WHERE IS IT NOW? Track the GOCE satellite here

GOCE ran out of gas last month and has been steadily sinking towards the Earth. As the planet rotates, the satellite whizzes over nearly every point between the poles. Experts expect it to plunge harmlessly into the oceans that cover 70 percent of the planet's surface.

But not everyone is convinced of that. On Saturday, odds makers with British gaming company Ladbrokes gave 6 to 4 odds it would crash-land in North or South America.

'[If] you could prove a piece of GOCE hit your Honda, you could go to your government to make a claim.'

- Marcia S. Smith, president of the Space and Technology Policy Group

Should the satellite end up in your backyard, experts said the government responsible for launching it would be responsible for any damage -- that would be Russia, in this case.

“Basically, governments are responsible for their own spacecraft,” explained Marcia S. Smith, president of the Space and Technology Policy Group in Arlington, Va. “[If] you could prove a piece of GOCE hit your Honda, you could go to your government to make a claim,” she told

GOCE has been orbiting Earth since March 2009 at the lowest altitude of any research satellite. With a sleek, aerodynamic design meant to eliminate drag on the craft from the planet -- it's been called the "Ferrari of space" -- GOCE has mapped variations in Earth’s gravity, creating a model of the planet's "geoid."

INTERACTIVE: Larger module to track Europe's falling, 2,000-pound satellite

The satellite is 17.4 feet long, according to the European Space Agency. A 2014 Chevrolet Suburban is 18.5 feet long, including the bumpers. The slim satellite is only 1/3 the weight of the truck, however.

As far as anyone knows, falling space debris has never injured anyone -- although one woman came dangerously close. Nor has significant property damage been reported.

Candy Cottingham

Did it land? And Where?


Everybody duck!! can we laugh now? a good resource?


Splashdown! Falling GOCE satellite lands in the Atlantic!-Falling-GOCE-satellite-lands-in-the-Atlantic

GOCE, the gravity-measuring satellite launched by the European Space Agency, has splashed down after reentering Earth's atmosphere above the Falkland Islands.

By Liz Fuller-Wright, Staff writer / November 11, 2013

When GOCE ran out of xenon, it began a three-week descent, ultimately splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean Sunday night. It entered the atmospheric no later than 7:16 p.m. EST, Nov. 10, say officials, near the red A off the coast of South America. GOCE debris therefore would have fallen into the southernmost regions of the Atlantic Ocean.

After fighting a losing battle against gravity, the European Space Agency's GOCE satellite has made splashdown somewhere in the south Atlantic Ocean, says the ESA. Its final orbit flew over Siberia, the western Pacific Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean, and Antarctica before entering the atmosphere a few hundred miles south of the Falkland Islands.

Out of xenon, space seismometer GOCE closing in on crash with Earth

As expected, the 2,500-pound satellite broke apart when it reentered the atmosphere, about 80 miles above Earth's surface. The ESA estimates that three-fourths of the satellite burned up during reentry, leaving some 600 pounds of material, probably broken into several dozen pieces, to splash into the Atlantic.

An ocean splashdown was always most likely, as 70 percent of Earth's surface is covered in water.

GOCE reentered the atmosphere no later than 7:16 p.m. Eastern time, Sunday evening, say officials with the US Space Control and Space Surveillance (SCSS). GOCE debris therefore would have fallen into the southernmost regions of the Atlantic Ocean, reports Daniel Scuka, senior editor for spacecraft operations at ESA's European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

GOCE, the Gravity field and Ocean Circulation Explorer, was launched in March 2009 to map Earth's gravity, in hopes of better understanding ocean currents and the Earth's interior. In order to detect subtle changes in Earth's gravitational field, GOCE had a very low orbit – so low that it felt drag from the edge of Earth's atmosphere, known as the exosphere. To achieve a smooth flight, GOCE used an electric ion propulsion system, pushing electrically charged xenon out the "back" of the satellite to create a gentle forward thrust.

The mission ended Oct. 21, when the satellite had too little xenon gas to continue its propulsion system. It ran completely out of xenon three days later, on Oct. 24. The satellite fell first slowly, then more and more quickly, from a descent of about 1 mile per day at first, to more than 1 mile per hour on its last day in space, ultimately making splashdown at terminal velocity, about 200 m.p.h.

GOCE lasted almost three times as long as expected: Despite an original mission timeline of 20 months, GOCE flew about 4.5 years. Both sturdy and sleek, the satellite known as the "Ferrari of space" stayed strong to the end, holding together through reentry much longer than scientists had anticipated, even as its central computer temperature rose to more than 170 degrees Fahrenheit. The reentry data gathered by ground-based scientists will be invaluable in helping scientists predict future space debris descents.

GOCE was just one of the more than 3,000 satellites in orbit, of which about 1,000 are still operational, according to the ESA. SCSS tracks more than 22,000 large space objects, and NASA is aware of millions of small objects. When their orbits decay, they fall toward Earth. Some 100 to 150 tons of space junk fall into the atmosphere each year, according to Heiner Klinkrad, the head of ESA's Space Debris Office. Most debris burns up in the atmosphere or lands unnoticed, ESA Space Debris Office deputy head Holger Krag told the Associated Press. On average, "roughly every week you have a reentry like GOCE," he says.

One of the best-known reentries is NASA's Skylab space station, which fell from orbit in 1979. About 82 tons of material hit the Earth, some landing in Australia and the rest falling into the Indian Ocean. In 2001, fragments of Russia's 150-ton Mir space station came down in a controlled dive into the Pacific Ocean. More recently, in 2011, NASA's UARS satellite crashed into the Pacific and Germany's ROSAT satellite landed in the Bay of Bengal.

When a satellite falls, space debris can be spread over hundreds of miles. Dr. Krag noted that fragments from a satellite came down in 2011 over the Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic, but no pieces were ever found.

No known human injuries or significant property damage have been caused by falling space junk, according to NASA, but there have been some destructive collisions in space – though none as dramatic as presented in the movie "Gravity." In 1996, a French satellite was damaged by debris from a French rocket that had exploded a decade earlier. In 2009, a defunct Russian satellite smashed into a commercial satellite, single-handedly adding more than 2,000 pieces of trackable debris to Earth's orbit.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this article


Sorry Candy I didn't see your question till now, yes we are safe it landed in the ocean. Glad Fox was on top of the story.

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