Another Falling Satellite on Its Way

1.6 tons of space junk could land somewhere on Earth
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2011 12:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – Brace yourself: Another satellite is falling, and this time the chances are one in 2,000 that it’ll hit someone. A German satellite known as ROSAT is due to plummet around the end of October, and while a lot of it will disintegrate before returning to Earth, experts say 1.6 tons could make it back. The previous falling satellite, UARS, landed in the South Pacific, thankfully—but it had a slightly more reassuring one in 3,200 chance of hitting anybody.

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So why isn’t there a better way to dispose of these things? asks SmartPlanet. Part of the problem is ROSAT’s tough build. “Generally speaking, whenever a satellite re-enters the atmosphere, about 20% to 40% of its mass actually reaches the Earth’s surface,” says an expert. But with its “heat-resistant mirror structures,” we may see more of ROSAT survive re-entry. NASA successfully tracked UARS, and the German space agency aims to do the same. But things won’t be entirely clear until just hours before the thing hits. (Read more satellite stories.)

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