A German X-ray telescope satellite is falling out of orbit, and this time, a lot of the craft could reach the Earth's surface intact.
The Roentgen satellite could reenter Earth's atmosphere on Sunday, the BBC reports, and scientists expect as many as 30 pieces of debris — 1.6 tons of partially destroyed spacecraft — to hit the ground, or, more optimistically, the ocean.
That's a lot more debris than NASA's UARS satellite produced when it fell to earth in September. Though UARS was bigger, more of it burned up on reentry than scientists are expecting this weekend. Part of the reason for the difference is construction: the German satellite is a hardy thing, built to survive the harshness of space. It may be time to start building these things to burn up more completely when they return.
Future spacecraft sent into orbit may have to meet stricter guidelines that limit the amount of debris likely to fall back on to the planet, but these rules are still some way from being introduced said Prof Richard Crowther, an expert on space debris and adviser to the UK Space Agency.
"Up until now we've designed satellites to survive the harsh environment of space, and we haven't given much thought to designing them for destructive re-entry," he told BBC News.
"But in future, we will have to consider whether we have got this balance right, and perhaps satellites should be designed in such a way that we can ensure more of what comes down is destroyed in the atmosphere and doesn't hit the surface.
"Unfortunately, there is a whole legacy of spacecraft - 50 years of satellites - and we are going to have to put up with this situation for quite some time, I'm afraid."
Keep your eyes on the sky. Rosat is expected to hit anywhere between 53 degrees North and South latitude, the BBC reports. Chances are, you're in range, as that expanse stretches from the United Kingdom down to "the tip of South America."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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