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German Satellite Crashes

An outdated German research satellite the size of a minivan broke up in the atmosphere upon reentry and as many as 30 pieces of it appeared to have crashed to Earth on Sunday, Oct. 23, somewhere in Southeast Asia, but no reports of impact have come in yet, leaving many people wondering. The satellite was designed to make an “all-sky” survey of sources of powerful X-ray that come from phenomena such as black holes and neutron stars. 

According the German Aerospace Center’s website www.dlr.de, the satellite, dubbed ROSAT, gave scientists worldwide a difficult time when it came to predicting the satellite’s exact time and place of reentry for several reasons.

-The satellite was put in orbit in 1990 and decommissioned in 1999 after a successful scientific run; but shortly thereafter it began to experience drag from the Earth’s atmosphere and began to lose altitude.

-ROSAT was never intended to be maneuvered after being fired into orbit, so it did not have a propulsion system meaning it couldn’t be put into what is called a controlled re-entry.

-During reentry, ROSAT would most likely break up into 30 large pieces with a combined total weight of about 1.7 tons.

-Once ROSAT or its fragments dropped low enough to enter our atmosphere its trajectory would be affected by pressure systems and weather patterns.

-During the projected time of re-entry over the past few days, there was increased solar activity which can interact with our atmosphere and magnetic field, which could affect the satellite’s trajectory.

According to the Associated Press, a representative of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that two large Chinese cities Chongqing and Chengdu were in the satellite’s projected re-entry path but have not reported any impacts.

The representative went on to say that the U.S. Military reported that their data indicated the “debris must have crashed somewhere east of Sri Lanka over the Indian Ocean, or over the Andaman Sea off the coast of Myanmar, or further inland in Myanmar or as far inland as China.”