Debris from Nasa satellite to crash to Earth on Monday

Parts of the 2,449kg spacecraft will survive atmospheric re-entry and fall to Earth

Nasa’s retired Earth Radiation Budget Satellite is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on Monday. Photo: Nasa
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A retired Nasa satellite is expected to crash to Earth on Monday, but the US space agency has said the chance of the wreckage falling on anyone is “very low”.

Some components of the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite are expected to survive as they re-enter the atmosphere at about 6.40pm EST on Sunday (3.40am GST, Monday).

But officials said most of the 2,449-kilogram satellite would burn up in the process.

The satellite has been retired after operating for nearly four decades in orbit.

The US Department of Defence predicted that it would re-enter the atmosphere at approximately 6.40pm Eastern Standard Time on Sunday (3.40am on Monday, UAE time), with an uncertainty of about 17 hours, Nasa said.

“Nasa and the Defence Department will continue to monitor the re-entry and update the predictions,” the agency said

An artist's impression of the Apophis asteroid, which will make an extremely close flyby past Earth in 2029, but poses no threat. Photo: Planetary Society 

Over the years, the satellite investigated how the Earth absorbed and radiated energy from the Sun, and made measurements of the stratospheric ozone, water vapour, nitrogen dioxide and aerosols.

A very crowded low-Earth orbit and the growing problem of space junk has caused concern among experts in recent years.

There are more pieces of human-made debris in Earth’s orbit than there are active satellites.

Figures show that there are less than 5,000 active satellites, but Nasa tracks more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris.

“The increase in launch traffic and the long-lasting nature of space debris in low-Earth orbit is causing a significant number of ‘close encounters’, known as conjunctions, between active satellites and other objects in heavily congested orbits,” the European Space Agency said last year.

While this latest satellite that is falling to Earth may not pose a threat, there have been incidents in the past that caused concern.

In November, remnants of an enormous Chinese rocket — the Long March 5B — fell back to Earth, after making an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere over the South Pacific Ocean.

The events caused concern in different parts of the world, including Europe, where the airspace over several airports in Spain was closed as a precautionary measure.

Last year in May, parts of another Long March 5B made an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and fell into the Indian Ocean.

In August last year, debris from a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft fell on a sheep farm in rural Australia.

Updated: January 07, 2023, 10:41 AM