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Defunct climate satellite to return to Earth Wednesday

A satellite that left Earth in 1995 will reenter Earth's atmosphere on Wednesday, nearly 13 years after its mission ended.
Defunct climate satellite to return to Earth Wednesday
Posted at 8:39 AM, Feb 21, 2024

A defunct satellite is expected to reenter Earth's atmosphere Wednesday, nearly 13 years after being taken out of service by the European Space Agency. 

The ESA said the ERS-2 satellite was spotted about 125 miles above the Earth's surface earlier this week. Once it reaches an altitude of about 50 miles, the ESA said the satellite will break into pieces. 

The satellite weighs over 5,000 pounds and is about 39 feet long.

The space agency said that the risk posed by falling satellites is very low. 

ERS-2 was launched in 1995 and at the time was the "most sophisticated Earth observation spacecraft ever developed and launched by Europe." Its mission was to record data to help scientists better understand climate change. 

"Back when ERS-2 was launched the notion of climate change was far less appreciated and understood than it is today — but the ERS missions gave scientists the data that helped us to begin to understand the impact that humans are having on the planet," the ESA said. 

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In 2011, more sophisticated satellites were launched, thus making the satellite obsolete. Officials then lowered the satellite's orbit around Earth in order to reduce the risk of colliding with other satellites. 

After 13 years, the satellite underwent orbital decay, gradually losing altitude, mainly due to solar activity, the ESA said. 

Officials said most of the satellite will burn up during reentry. Some fragments could reach the Earth's surface, but officials said none of these objects would be toxic or radioactive. 

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