Fengshen: Satellites the size of small cars will fall to Earth in a few weeks | Tech News

A defunct spacecraft the size of a small car is expected to plummet to Earth within weeks, according to the European Space Agency.

ESA said its 1.3-ton Aeolus satellite had run out of fuel and was descending about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) per day.

While most of it will burn up in the atmosphere, some debris is expected to reach the Earth’s surface – most likely by late July or early August.

In the first exercise of its kind, the UK-owned space agency will use up remaining fuel in an attempt to safely guide a spacecraft to a remote part of the planet.

Tim Flohrer, director of ESA’s Space Debris Office, said: “This assisted re-entry attempt went beyond the mission safety regulations planned and designed in the late 1990s.

“As soon as ESA and industry partners identified the possibility to further reduce the already small risk to life or infrastructure, we acted.”

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The Aeolus satellite in 2018.Image: European Space Agency
The Aeolus satellite in 2018.Image: European Space Agency

Fengshen has been orbiting the planet at an altitude of 200 miles (320 kilometers) for five years, measuring winds in the atmosphere to improve weather forecasts.

But it’s nearly out of fuel — gravity and wisps of Earth’s atmosphere, along with solar activity, are dragging the spacecraft downward.

Once the satellite reaches an altitude of 174 miles (280 kilometers), mission control in Germany will conduct a series of maneuvers over several days to lower it to an orbit of 93 miles (150 kilometers).

A final change in trajectory will send it crashing into the ocean away from land.

In a blog post, the ESA said it was impossible to give an exact time for the spacecraft’s re-entry.

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