The European Space Agency’s European Remote Sensing 2 (ERS-2) satellite, which was sent into orbit in 1995, is scheduled to make its last descent back to Earth in a few short weeks, marking a momentous occasion. This large, abandoned satellite, which was decommissioned more than ten years ago, is predicted to reenter Earth’s atmosphere “around mid-February,” according to ESA comments.
The ERS-2 satellite is still rather heavy more than 5,000 pounds and could crash into a populated region even if it is empty of fuel. Reassuringly, nevertheless, the ESA stresses that there is a very little chance less than one in 100 billion—that a person will be hurt by space debris each year.
This approaching reentry event highlights the risks involved with uncontrolled descents from orbit and the growing concern regarding space debris. The need for appropriate space procedures is highlighted by recent incidents like China’s Long March 5B rocket stage’s uncontrollably falling descent.
Because the ERS-2 spacecraft descends in an unusual manner, tracking its precise landing site is still difficult. Even though the satellite’s path appeared to be out of control, its ultimate fall back to Earth was nevertheless a better course of action than the risks it might have presented to other space operations.
The ERS-2 satellite, despite its prematurely terminated existence, has left behind an invaluable legacy of contributions to Earth observation, encompassing the monitoring of land surfaces, sea-level rise, polar ice, and atmospheric changes. Understanding climatic phenomena and natural calamities has been made possible by its data.
The problem of space debris is getting worse as more satellite launches by humans take us farther and farther into space. The ERS-2 satellite’s imminent reentry is a clear reminder of how crucial it is to practice proper space stewardship in order to protect our planet and further space exploration projects.