Doomed Satellite Plunges to Earth

GOCE satellite broke up on re-entry
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 10, 2013 11:42 PM CST
Updated Nov 11, 2013 12:03 AM CST
An artist's impression of GOCE in its low orbit.   (ESA)

(Newser) – After four years of mapping our planet's gravity, the European Space Agency's GOCE satellite has plunged back to Earth. The GOCE—Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer—was last heard from 75 miles over Antarctica, Reuters reports. It is believed to have burned up on re-entry, with hundreds of pounds of surviving debris scattering somewhere in the Western Pacific. Its gradiometer, the instrument used to make gravity measurements, is made of materials tough enough to survive the fall to Earth, the BBC notes.

GOCE—the planet's lowest-flying scientific satellite—mapped Earth's gravitational field in never-before-seen detail, revealing how gravity's pull is uneven across the world. The satellite's fall to Earth, which was inevitable after it ran out of fuel a few weeks ago, was the ESA's first uncontrolled re-entry in decades. But since GOCE was relatively light at 1.2 tons, it didn't attract the same attention as other recent re-entries, including the crash of a failed Russian probe last year.

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