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

(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.

An artist's impression of GOCE in its low orbit.
An artist's impression of GOCE in its low orbit.   (ESA)
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