TOKYO (majriox news) — If you’ve just finished letting out a sigh of relief over the fact that the American satellite the size of a school bus has managed to come down somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without strewing heavy, burning pieces all over Tokyo during its descent, you may have to scurry back into the bomb shelter. This time, a German satellite, the size of a Mercedes Benz is coming down, and nobody is certain where it’s going to land, either.
“All areas under the orbit of ROSAT, which extends to 53 degrees Northern Latitude and Southern Latitude, could be affected by its re-entry,” reported a posting on the DLR (German Space Agency) website. Put into simpler language, it could come crashing down in an area that covers all Japanese islands, from Hokkaido to Ishigaki-jima, and perhaps as far south as Papua New Guinea.
ROSAT stands for Roentgen Satellite, and its purpose was study X-rays and other naturally occurring cosmic electromagnetic waves. Launched in 1990, the 5,348 pound satellite was turned off in 1999 and slowly lowered in orbit to prepare for its burning re-entry sometime between Oct. 20 and Oct. 25, 2011.
The amount of debris it will spread will actually be much larger than NASA’s Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS), which grabbed so many headlines last month. Not only will there be more pieces of debris, but they will weigh a lot more per piece as well. About 30 large pieces are expected to survive re-entry.
“The ROSAT is primarily made of heat-resistant components, especially its primary mirror,” says Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office. “About 3,750 pounds of the satellite can be expected to reach earth, as opposed to the roughly 1,200 pounds of UARS which survived re-entry.
“It will not be possible to make any kind of reliable forecast about where the satellite will actually come down until an hour or two before the fact, but it will, however, be possible to predict about a day in advance which geographical regions will not be affected.”
So, if it does come down on Japan, drinkers at Roppongi bars in Tokyo will have enough time to order a final round and catch the last train home before it hits.