A satellite will make a fiery fall back to Earth, European Space Agency says

A defunct European satellite is falling to Earth and is expected to plunge uncontrolled through the atmosphere Wednesday.

The vast majority of the dead satellite is expected to burn up in the atmosphere, and it’s unlikely that any bits of surviving debris will cause any harm, according to the European Space Agency. Still, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where the spacecraft will fall.

In its latest blog post, the space agency estimated the time of re-entry at around 10:41 a.m. ET Wednesday, give or take two hours. Based on the satellite’s orbit, the probe was expected to be somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of North America, during that period of time.

Much of the uncertainty surrounding when and where the satellite will fall back to Earth stems from the difficulty in forecasting atmospheric density, according to the space agency. The density of air, which changes based on solar activity, affects the drag experienced by objects passing through Earth’s atmosphere.

Even with the uncertainty around the dead satellite’s point of re-entry, it’s unlikely that the spacecraft will pose any threats to any populated areas, according to the space agency.

“The vast majority of the satellite will burn up, and any pieces that survive will be spread out somewhat randomly over a ground track on average hundreds of kilometres long and a few tens of kilometres wide (which is why the associated risks are very, very low),” experts at the agency’s Space Debris Office wrote in the blog post.

The spacecraft, known as European Remote Sensing 2 or ERS-2, was an Earth observation satellite that collected data on the planet’s oceans, polar caps and land surfaces. The satellite, launched in April 1995, was also used to monitor severe flooding, earthquakes and other natural disasters in remote parts of the world, according to the space agency.