NASA satellite in free fall towards Earth: it had been in orbit for 40 years

In the night between Sunday and Monday the fragments of the ERBS satellite, which will disintegrate upon contact with the atmosphere, should reach the Earth

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NASA’s ERBS satellite, no longer operational, is in free fall towards the Earth. The spacecraft should be almost completely destroyed in the impact with the atmosphere, but some fragments could still make it to Earth.

The ERBS satellite in free fall

In the night between Sunday 8 and Monday 9 January, i fragments of the satellite science of NASA ERBS (Earth Radiation Budget Satellite), in orbit for almost forty years and no longer active for just under twenty.

To be more precise, the impact should take place around 04:49 on January 9 (Italian time), but the margin of error is calculated in about 13 hours.

NASA’s tweet about the re-entry of the ERBS satellite into the atmosphere

According to forecasts by NASA scientists, the almost two and a half tons of the satellite should be almost totally destroyed when passing through the atmosphere.

Despite this, some debris may reach the ground, but the risk of impact with a human beingaccording to calculations by the US space agency, is “calculated at 1 in 9400”.

The ERBS satellite

Launched in 1984 with the Challenger shuttle, the ERBS satellite was the first spacecraft to be launched and deployed by a Space Shuttle mission.

Designed to run for two years (with a maximum target of three), ERBS ultimately stuck in operation around our planet for 21 yearscollecting data on the atmosphere and climate, measuring levels of ozone, water vapor and aerosols.

Despite several minor hardware failures, ERBS collected data up to 2005when faults within the battery lead to its deactivation.

The free fall of ERBS

Since 2005, therefore, ERBS has become a “scrap”, one of the countless technological debris that wander in Earth’s orbit once their function is finished.

And after nearly 115,000 orbits around the Earth, ERBS will come into contact with the atmosphere and burn until it disintegrates.

A much more common occurrence than one might think. Indeed, according to experts, similar episodes occur every one or two daysand it is estimated that more than 20,000 fragments of remains from space missions roam the low orbit of our planet.


Photo source: ANSA

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NASA satellite in free fall towards Earth: it had been in orbit for 40 years

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