A NASA satellite and part of a rocket fall toward Earth – Space & Astronomy

A NASA satellite and part of a rocket fall toward Earth – Space & Astronomy

NASA’s Erbs satellite, in orbit for nearly 40 years and no longer operational, is falling uncontrollably toward Earth and is expected to reenter the atmosphere at night between January 8 and 9. According to the latest calculations available by the US Department of Defense, the entry into the atmosphere is expected at 4.49 AT on January 9 (with a margin of plus or minus 13 hours). Part of the American Delta 2 rocket, which in 2000 carried three satellites into orbit, is also in free fall. Calculations, which are constantly updated, indicate that the atmospheric impact of Erebus is expected at , while the Delta 2 rocket fragment should precede it by a few hours and is currently forecast at 20.45 on January 8 (by a margin of more or less 11 hours).

According to NASA forecasts, the Erbs satellite (Earth’s Radiation Budget Satellite), which weighs nearly two and a half tons, should be almost completely destroyed in the impact with the atmosphere, but some fragments could still reach the Earth. According to the US space agency, “the risk of someone being infected is calculated as one in 9,400.”

The Erbs satellite, launched in 1984 with the shuttle Challenger, was designed to operate for two years, but had a much longer operational life. For 21 years, its instruments have in fact collected atmospheric and climate data, measuring levels of ozone, water vapor and aerosols. Erbs ceased to function in 2005, and are now one of the very many space debris in Earth’s orbit.

The piece instead belonged to a Delta 2 rocket that was launched on November 21, 2000, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California; It has brought into orbit NASA’s Earth Observing science satellite Eo1 (Earth Observing-1), Argentine satellite Sc-C (Satelite de Aplicanciones Cientificas-C) and Sweden’s nanosatellite Munin.

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This is just the latest in a long line of objects falling uncontrollably from space: a phenomenon that is now so common, that experts estimate that similar episodes occur every day or two. Among the most striking cases, the most recent was the center stage of the 25-ton Chinese Long March 5B rocket used to bring the new modules for the under-construction Chinese space station into orbit. This was the fourth time for the Chinese launch pad, after uncontrolled returns that occurred in May 2020, May 2021 and July 2022. Fortunately, fragments of the last two fell into the Pacific Ocean, but in May 2020 they ended up in a village in Ivory Coast.

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