European Space Agency’s ERS-2 Satellite to Reenter Earth’s Atmosphere: A Trailblazer’s Grand Finale
ERS-2 Satellite’s Final Journey
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) ERS-2 satellite, launched in 1995, has now embarked on its final journey – reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Expected to occur in mid-February 2024, the satellite’s reentry signifies the end of its operational life, which officially ceased in 2011. Since then, the satellite has been slowly descending in orbit, a process known as orbital decay, which has lasted for 13 years. This uncontrolled reentry is being closely monitored by the ESA’s Space Debris Office, in coordination with international partners.
A Pioneer in Earth Observation
ERS-2, during its 16 years of service, played a pioneering role in Earth observation and climate change studies. It provided invaluable data on a range of crucial environmental factors, such as polar ice, land surfaces, sea-level rise, warming oceans, and atmospheric chemistry. The data collected by ERS-2 has significantly contributed to our understanding of climate change and the impact of human activities on our planet. This significant contribution led to the development of several successor missions by the ESA, thereby cementing ERS-2’s legacy in the field of Earth observation.
Reentry and Safety Measures
The reentry of the ERS-2 satellite is an uncontrolled process. However, the risk to human safety is minuscule, with the chances of an individual being injured by space debris pegged at less than 1 in 100 billion. The satellite, which weighs approximately 5,057 pounds, is expected to break apart and burn up in the atmosphere. The majority of the reentry process is anticipated to take place over the ocean, further mitigating any potential risk.
Continuing the Legacy
Despite the end of its operational life, the influence of ERS-2 continues. The insights derived from its data are still being leveraged through the ESA’s Heritage Space Programme. This initiative reflects ESA’s commitment to extracting valuable insights from historical satellite data, which can be critical in furthering our understanding of climate change and its effects.
The Future of Satellite Disposal
While the reentry of ERS-2 is uncontrolled, it highlights the need for safer and more sustainable satellite disposal methods. Efforts are underway to develop new technology that can ensure the controlled reentry of satellites, minimizing potential risks and contributing to space sustainability.