A NASA Satellite From The 80’s Crashed Back To Earth

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On January 8, close to the Aleutian Islands, a decommissioned satellite weighing 2.7 tons fell into the Bering Sea; although most of it burnt up in the sky, NASA believes that some portions reached the surface.

According to SpaceNews, NASA’s Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS) reentered the atmosphere on January 8 at 11:04 p.m. ET, and the Space Force’s Space Track confirmed that it reentered the atmosphere near the Aleutian Islands. The 5,400-pound research satellite was launched into space by the Space Shuttle Challenger on October 5, 1984 and has since been circling the Earth for 38 years. Despite the fact that the ERBS mission was only meant to last two years, the satellite was finally decommissioned in 2005, having served for a total of 21 years.

While operational, ERBS measured Earth’s energy budget, or the difference between the quantity of solar energy our planet absorbs and the amount of energy it reflects back into space.  aThe spacecraft carried three sensors to monitor the amount of water vapor, nitrogen dioxide, as well as aerosols and ozone in the stratosphere. NASA claims that ERBS improved our knowledge of climate and ozone layer health, and that this led to the signing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol Agreement, which restricted the use of harmful chlorofluorocarbons (CFS).
According to NASA’s announcement, most of the satellite was anticipated to burn up as it went through the atmosphere, but “certain components were predicted to survive the reentry.” One of its previous posts estimated the chances of dangerous debris falling to the earth at 1 in 9,400. As far as we know, nobody was hurt and nothing was broken when the debris fell.

In terms of how long it took for the satellite to deorbit after retirement and how much danger it presented to humans on Earth, this newest satellite reentry is a throwback to the old way of doing things. To reduce the quantity of space trash and the likelihood of in-space collisions, the United States Federal Communications Commission announced a new five-year regulation in September 2022 for the deorbiting of obsolete satellites. Risk of human mortality from surviving components should be less than 1 in 10,000, according to an update to U.S. government standard procedures for orbital debris mitigation released in 2019.