Space debris: ‘Grandfather satellite’ ERS-2 due to fall to Earth

A pioneering European satellite is due to fall to Earth in the coming hours.

ERS-2 was a cutting-edge observation platform when it launched in 1995, forging technologies that are now used routinely to monitor the planet.

It’s been gradually descending since ending operations in 2011 and will take an uncontrolled, fiery plunge into the atmosphere sometime on Wednesday.

The European Space Agency (Esa) says most of the two-tonne satellite will burn up on the way down.

It’s possible some more robust parts may withstand the intense heating generated during the high-speed dive, but the chances of these fragments hitting populated areas and causing damage are slim.

They could land almost anywhere in the world but with most of the Earth’s surface covered by ocean, whatever debris survives to the surface is most likely to be lost at sea.

“And it’s worth highlighting that none of the elements that might re-enter the atmosphere (and reach the surface) are radioactive or toxic,” said Mirko Albani from Esa’s Earth Observation Ground Segment Department.

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