at 1:00 a.m. Central European Time Monday on a descending orbit pass that extended across Siberia, the western Pacific Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean and Antarctica, prompting me, perhaps with a splashing of mild paranoia, to check that I have adequate buildings insurance cover!
The likelihood of this redundant satellite actually coming down on my roof was clearly verging on non-existent, but the fact still remains that it could have. You will be pleased to know that to my relief it didn’t! According to Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office in Germany, you would be 250,000 times more likely to win the German lottery than have a piece of the debris land on your building. Sadly I was unable to get my hands on a German lottery ticket at the time!
The satellite’s mission, originally launched from Russia in 2009, was to map variations in Earth’s gravity, but as of October this year, it’s xenon fuel ran out leaving it at the mercy of the very force it was up there to study. The majority of the 1.2 tonne satellite was expected to burn up in the Earth’s upper atmosphere upon re-entry, although up to 25% of it was predicted to enter the atmosphere and land somewhere on Earth’s surface with debris possibly covering an area up to 190 square miles.
Although there have been over 150,000 tonnes of man-made space debris that have re-entered the atmosphere since the start of space flight some 56 years ago, there have been no reports of deaths or serious injury to human life although back in 1997 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Lottie Williams was hit by a falling piece of fuel tank of the Delta II rocket which launched a U.S. Air Force satellite in 1996. After witnessing what she thought was a shooting star at 3.30 am in a park in Tulsa, she was hit on the shoulder by what she thought was an empty drinks can. It really has to beg the question as to what she was doing in a park at that time, something I am not going to speculate on here!