When a satellite is sent into orbit, it’s launched up there with a mission to do and a time frame in which to complete it in. Usually, they have enough fuel on board for the length of the mission, or are constructed to last in orbit for as long as they need to be up there. Once the mission is over, satellites are left up in space until they fall out of orbit or can be cleaned up, and today one retired satellite is scheduled to come crashing back to Earth.
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According to Space.com, the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) satellite has been studying the surface of the sun since 2002. Over the course of its 16-year mission, the satellite observed solar flares and other ejections from our closest star, helping scientists understand how these powerful bursts of energy are created.
However, that mission ended almost five years ago, and the RHESSI was decommissioned in 2018 when it ran into issues with its communication equipment. Since then, it has just been stuck floating in orbit, adding to the thousands of pieces of space junk that are currently drifting above the Earth.
Now, the 660-pound satellite, which is longer and wider than an Escalade when it has its solar panels fully extended, will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for the first time since it was launched into space on the back of a Pegasus XL rocket.
The RHESSI satellite is expected to re-enter the atmosphere at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time today (April 19th), but NASA warns that that time could vary by plus or minus 16 hours. Meaning we could spot it overhead anytime between now and 1:30 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow.
In the process, NASA expects the majority of the craft to be broken up and turned into dust by our atmosphere. However, the agency warned that “some components are expected to survive reentry.”
According to NASA, the risk of anyone on Earth being harmed by a piece of the satellite sits at around 1 in 2,467. And while that’s a very small chance, it does mean that today you’re more likely to get hit by a satellite than you are to get killed by a shark, which sits at just one in 43 million.
You’re also more likely to be hit by a piece of the satellite than you are to be hit by a car, the chances of which here in the U.S. sit at around 1 in 4,292. So, you be careful out there.