It looks like 2011 might be the year of crashing satellites. Just last month, NASA’s UARS satellite crashed back to Earth at an area still unknown. Now, a German satellite, called ROSAT (ROentgen SATellite) an X-ray telescope is said to make its fiery re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere. Like the UARS, there’s no clear forecast of when the satellite will hit the planet, but the European Space Agency would be able to give a better idea an hour or two before it enters the earth’s atmosphere. USA Today reports that there’s a 1-in-2,000 chance that the satellite would hit someone. Still, it’s riskier than the UARS, which had a 1-in-3,000 chance of hitting anyone.
Coming home, soon (Image credit: MPE)
ROSAT was sent to space back in 1990, to scan all the X-ray sources in the sky. During its 18 month mission, it mapped roughly 1,10,000 stars and other space bodies including comets. It went defunct back in 1999. ROSAT is comparitively a smaller satellite than NASA’s UARS. The ROSAT has descended from a 350 mile orbit to a 180 mile one over a period of roughly 12 years. As drag increases, the satellite will slip out of orbit and will be pulled by the earth’s gravitational pull at roughly 17,400 miles per hour. The debris field is likely to be spread over a 50 mile path of land and the largest piece of the satellite might be the 32-inch, 880 pound (400kg) mirror onboard the satellite. There's also an iOS app if you're interested to know when the satellite will strike along with its location and updates from the Twitter feed.