Another satellite set to crash back to Earth

Well, you may have been lucky last time, but there’s another satellite heading back to Earth, and this time it’s much more likely that it’ll land on your head.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) plunged safely into the south Pacific Ocean, six years after completing its mission.

And, now, a German research satellite called ROSAT is set to make a similar return to Earth in the next two or three weeks. It’s an X-ray telescope weighing nearly three tons, that’s been orbiting since 1990.

However, communication was lost in 1999, and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) has lost control. There were suggestions at the time that the satellite’s failure was triggered by a hacking attack from Russia.

ROSAT’s now orbiting at around 270km above the Earth, descending slowly.

It’s unlikely to burn up entirely on re-entry, because of the large amount of ceramics and glass used in construction – and this could mean that many pieces of debris would be razor-sharp.

As many as 30 individual chunks, weighing a total of 1.6 tons, are believed to be heading our way. But, says the DLR, the chances of anyone on the planet being hit by debris are around one in two thousand.