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article imageDead German research satellite set to hit Earth in next few weeks

By Andrew Moran     Oct 11, 2011 in Science
Cologne - Officials at the European Space Agency have published warnings that the defunct 1.8-ton X-ray satellite Röntgensatellit (ROSAT) is set to fall to Earth in the next few weeks when it re-enters our planet's atmosphere.
ROSAT, a German X-ray satellite built with American and British technology, has been orbiting Earth since 1990. It has collected important information about stars, but unfortunately scientists lost communication with it on its last mission nine years later.
Local German news media outlets are now reporting that the Cologne-based German Aerospace Centre is warning people of another satellite collision with Earth.
According to Der Spiegel (translated by Google), astronomers are predicting that 30 individual pieces of the satellite, which weigh approximately 1.8 tons, may strike the Earth when it re-enters our atmosphere and could cause damage if its hits a particular part of our planet.
Furthermore, the satellite’s heat-resistant mirror may not burn up when it enters the atmosphere, and part of the falling debris could include razor-sharp shards. Scientists do not have control of the propulsion system, which means they will not be able to plan its landing.
“It is not possible to accurately predict ROSAT's re-entry,” said head of the Space Debris Office at the European Space Agency, Heiner Klinkard, in a news release. “The uncertainty will decrease as the moment of re-entry approaches. It will not be possible to make any kind of reliable forecast about where the satellite will actually come down until about one or two hours before the fact.”
Experts are calling for a one in 2,000 chance of an individual being hit by a piece of the satellite, notes the Herald Sun. Last month’s crash of NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite had a chance of one in 3,200 – it crashed in the Pacific Ocean and scientists are hoping for the same result.
“Until now in the more than 50-years of space history not a single person has been harmed [by pieces of falling satellites],” added the space agency official.
The collision is expected to occur between the end of October and the beginning of November.
More about ROSAT, xray telescope, Earth, Satellite, german aerospace centre
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