The European satellite ERS-2 will disintegrate almost entirely in the atmosphere this Wednesday

This is the end for this equipment which completed its mission in 2011. A few fragments should still hit the Earth, with an infinitesimal probability of hitting a person on the ground.


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The ESR-2 Earth observation satellite completed its mission in 2011. (ESA)

End clap. The European satellite ERS-2 should burn up almost entirely in the atmosphere on Wednesday, according to the latest forecasts from the European Space Agency, published Monday February 19. The epilogue of a long career, after an Earth observation mission completed thirteen years ago. The fallout operation on our planet, quite rare at ESA, began in 2011 to prevent an accidental destruction of this object in orbit from dispersing debris dangerous to active satellites and the International Space Station (ISS).

The ESA’s European Space Operations Center (ESOC) forecasts the satellite’s final re-entry into the lower layers of the atmosphere for Wednesday at 11:14 a.m. GMT (12:14 p.m. in Paris), with an uncertainty margin of plus or minus 15 hours . This margin, which was still more or less 48 hours a week ago, is explained by the fact that the machine falls naturally, by the force of gravity alone, and not in a directed manner. It thus crosses upper layers of the atmosphere which more or less slow down its descent, and also make it difficult to predict where some of its debris could fall.

Around fifty kilos for the largest fragment

Most of the 2.3 tonnes of ERS-2 is expected to burn up when it reaches the lower layers of the atmosphere on Wednesday, at an altitude of around 80 km. “It is estimated that the largest fragment of the satellite that can reach the ground is 52 kg”, said Henri Laur, from the Earth Observation Directorate at ESA. The chance of one of these debris hitting a person on the ground is less than one in 100 billion, according to the ESA blog dedicated to the mission. In other words, the risk for a human is 65,000 lower than that of being struck by lightning.

ESA's ERS-2 satellite reenters the Earth's atmosphere in February 2024. (ESA)

On average, an object with a mass similar to ERS-2 ends its days in the atmosphere once every one or two weeks, according to the ESA. Monitoring of the satellite during its last days in space is carried out by ESOC, with European, German and American institutional partners.

A pioneer satellite in Earth observation, ERS-2 was launched in 1995 and placed at an altitude of nearly 800 km. In 2011, at the end of its mission, the ESA brought it back down to around 500 km, so that it then descended naturally and gradually towards Earth in just 13 years, instead of the 100 to 200 years it would take. would have been necessary if it had remained at its initial altitude. Deprived of its internal energy (fuel, batteries, etc.), it presented significant risks of exploding and creating debris.

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