GOCE satellite debris lands in Atlantic Ocean

Debris from a one-tonne satellite that fell out of orbit Sunday evening likely landed in the South Atlantic, near the Falkland Islands, the European Space Agency says.

75 per cent of satellite burned up in atmosphere; no damage from remaining 25 per cent

GOCE orbit is so low that it experiences drag from the outer edges of Earth's atmosphere. The satellite's streamline structure and use of electric propulsion system counteract atmospheric drag to ensure that the data are of true gravity. (ESA/AOES Medialab)

A 1-ton European science satellite plunged back into Earth's atmosphere and incinerated with debris most likely landing in the southern regions of the Atlantic Ocean, officials said on Monday.

The last contact by ground tracking stations with Europe's Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, known as GOCE, was at 5:42 p.m. ET on Sunday as the spacecraft flew just 120 kilometres above Antarctica, the European Space Agency said.

Extrapolating from computer models, officials believe GOCE hit the upper atmosphere about 80 km above the planet's surface no later than 7:16 p.m. ET Sunday near the Falkland Islands.

"This would put the main area over which any possible GOCE remnants fell to the southernmost regions of the Atlantic Ocean," the space agency wrote in a status report on its website.

"No damage to property has been reported from any debris," the report said.

About 25 per cent of the car-sized satellite was expected to have survived re-entry.

GOCE was launched in 2009 to map variations in Earth's gravity. Scientists assembled the data into the first detailed global maps of the boundary between the planet's crust and mantle, among other projects.

The satellite ran out of fuel on Oct. 21 and had been steadily losing altitude since, tugged by Earth's gravity.

The 1,100-kilogram GOCE satellite is small in comparison to other spacecraft that recently crashed back into the atmosphere.

In January 2012, Russia's failed 12,700-kilogram Phobos-Grunt Mars probe returned. In 2011, NASA's 5,900-kilogram Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite and Germany's 2,177-kilogram X-ray ROSAT telescope re-entered the atmosphere.

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