A 2.3-ton satellite will re-enter the atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner this Wednesday

The European Space AgencyESA for its acronym in English, launched in nineteen ninety five what was then the largest and most advanced Earth observation satellite it had built, on an Ariane 4 rocket. ERS-2 (European Remote Sensing 2 or European Remote Observation) was observing the Earth through its instruments during 16 yearsuntil in 2011 decided to end its mission after suffering a series of failures that began in 2001.

He then made a series of deorbitation maneuvers with which it reduced its altitude from 785 kilometers to 573 km with the aim of ending up being dragged into the atmosphere and destroyed on re-entry. This will occur, according to current ESA calculations, this Wednesday, February 21 at 9:53 p.m., peninsular time. The space agency, in any case, gives a margin of precision of 15 hours, so it could end up occurring sooner or later, already in the early hours of Thursday the 22nd.

The problem is that it is an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere and ESA cannot predict where it will fall. The reason is that during the deorbitation maneuvers carried out 12 years ago its fuel tanks were emptied. In this way, the risk of an explosion occurring that would destroy the satellite and generate a large amount of space debris was prevented. The counterpart is that now there is no fuel to ensure that ERS-2 falls somewhere remote in the ocean. Its batteries were also completely depleted and the communications antenna and onboard systems disabled, leaving the space agency with no way to control the satellite. This is what the ESA also calls a “natural” reentrywithout human intervention.

ERS-2 deorbitation.European Space Agency.

ERS-2 is also a satellite with 2.3 tons of mass which, although it will be destroyed during reentry, could fragments weighing up to 52 kg reach the surface. The disintegration will begin when it is 80 kilometers high.

The ESA allows you to follow the development of events through a website where it provides all the information about ERS-2 and the process it is following. The most likely thing, in any case, is that the fragments that may reach end up submerged in the sea.

During its 16 years of operation, ERS-2 was observing the Earth and collecting data about its seas, continents and poles. He also participated in the natural disaster monitoring such as earthquakes and floods in various parts of the planet.

However, in 2001 his gyroscopes They stopped operating and in 2003 a failure on board led to the instruments only working when the satellite was visible from a ground monitoring station. His successor, the Envisat, was launched by ESA in 2002 and was operational until all communications with it were lost a decade later. It currently continues to orbit the Earth as space debris at almost 800 kilometers altitude.