There is a possibility of European Space Agency’s satellite weighing more than 2,200 kg falling to Earth.

(CNN) — A satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA) is expected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere this Wednesday morning and burn up extensively.

The agency’s Space Debris Office, along with an international monitoring network, is monitoring and tracking the ERS-2 Earth observation satellite, which is scheduled to re-enter this Wednesday at 6:14 a.m. ET. Uncertainty with a period of 15 hours. ESA also provides live updates on its website.

According to a statement from the agency, “Since the spacecraft’s re-entry is ‘natural’ with no possibility of maneuvering, it is impossible to know where and when it will re-enter the atmosphere and begin burning up.”

The exact timing of the satellite’s re-entry is still unclear due to the unpredictability of solar activity, which can alter the density of Earth’s atmosphere and how the atmosphere pulls the satellite. Solar activity is increasing as the Sun approaches the peak of its 11-year cycle, called solar maximum. Solar maximum is expected to occur later this year.

The Sun’s increased activity has already had the effect of accelerating the re-entry of ESA’s Aeolus satellite in July 2023.

According to the agency, the ERS-2 satellite has an estimated mass of 5,057 pounds (2,294 kg) after its fuel runs out, making it similar in size to other space debris that re-enters Earth’s atmosphere approximately every week.

The satellite is expected to break up about 80 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and most of the pieces will burn up in the atmosphere. The agency said some fragments may reach the planet’s surface, but they will not contain any harmful substances and will likely fall into the ocean.

ESA satellite

An illustration showing ESA’s ERS-2.

Back story of ERS-2

The ERS-2 Earth observation satellite was first launched on 21 April 1995 and was the most sophisticated satellite of its type developed and launched by Europe at that time.

Along with its twin, ERS-1, the satellite collected valuable data about the planet’s polar ice caps, oceans and land surfaces and observed disasters such as floods and earthquakes in remote areas. According to the agency, the data collected by ERS-2 is still used today.

In 2011, the agency decided to end operations of the satellite and deorbit it rather than add to the vortex of space debris orbiting the planet.

The satellite performed 66 deorbit maneuvers in July and August 2011 before the mission officially ended on September 11. The maneuver burned the satellite’s remaining fuel and reduced its altitude, putting ERS-2’s orbit on a trajectory to gradually approach Earth and re-enter the atmosphere within 15 years.

According to the agency, the chance of a person being injured by space debris each year is less than 1 in 100 billion, which is about 1.5 million times less than the risk of dying in a crash at home.

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