ERS-2 satellite in orbit for 30 years crashes into Pacific between Alaska and Hawaii

European Space Agency said a craft safely re-entered Earth's atmosphere on Wednesday

An artist's impression of the European Remote Sensing 2 satellite, which has crashed back down to Earth after nearly 30 years in space. Photo: European Space Agency
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A European satellite that has been in orbit for nearly three decades crashed into the North Pacific Ocean, between Alaska and Hawaii, on Wednesday.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said that the defunct satellite European Remote Sensing 2 (ERS-2) re-entered the atmosphere and that "no damage to property was reported".

ERS-2 was an Earth observation satellite, launched in 1995, and provided insights into the planet, including the chemistry of the atmosphere, behaviour of the oceans and the effects of human activity on the environment.

“Having far exceeded its planned lifetime of three years, ESA took the decision to deorbit ERS-2 in 2011 in light of growing concern over the long-term hazard that orbital debris poses to current and future space activities," the agency said in a statement.

Photos of the satellite's journey home were taken by Australian company HEO using its own satellites over the past month.

While modern missions by ESA are designed to ensure that satellites are disposed of more responsibly, older missions were not created that way.

“ESA’s space debris mitigation policy has been updated multiple times since 2008, as recently as November 2023,” the agency said.

“Our missions in Earth orbit are now increasingly designed to conduct controlled re-entries at the end of their life that allow operators to accurately target over which region on Earth they re-enter.

“However, ESA continues to make efforts to dispose of its older satellites (such as ERS-2, Aeolus, Cluster and Integral) in more sustainable ways than were originally planned.”

Over the years, there have been several large defunct rocket body parts that have made uncontrolled re-entries into Earth.

Some of these include China's rocket boosters that have tumbled back into the oceans, as well as debris from SpaceX's Dragon capsule that was found in an Australian farmland in August, 2022.

Updated: February 22, 2024, 7:59 AM