A few days ago, many people on earth were huddled under their desks, wearing hard hats whilst watching TV, and/or trying to find a way into their prepper neighbor’s bunker. What was going on that had so many of us worried? To put it simply, the sky was falling.
OK, that isn’t quite accurate. The sky itself was fine. However, a man-made object which had been up in the sky measuring the earth’s gravitational fields for 55 months was careening out of control into our atmosphere. Nobody knew where it would enter the lower atmosphere. The ESA told us it would burn up in the atmosphere, but why should we believe them? They thought the satellite would only last 20 months. Plus, they had no idea where it would enter.
Luckily, due to a certain war with a lack of heat, the US Air Force had built quite the tracking network. As part of the Space Systems Command, the Air Force regularly tracks satellites and other objects in space. However, their tracking abilities are only so good. I had a professor in my university days that worked on tracking space junk with NASA, and I remember him telling me that there are holes to the network plus issues with tracking objects once they get below a certain altitude. That meant that even the fancy tracking systems at Vandenberg AFB and in Cheyenne Mountain were blind at some point.
So, the guessing game of where the satellite will re-enter begins. With the earth more than 70% water, chances are it would re-enter over water. However, Skylab proved that blind satellites still find land. This is why I was huddled under a blanket nervously watching my ceiling for pieces of spacecraft debris hurtling at me.
Luckily, our recent interconnectivity via the internet and social networking sites allowed the ESA and USAF to pinpoint re-entry. Thanks to the photo above, posted on Twitter by Bill Chater (@Cheds23), the European space people were able to declare re-entry occurred at 9:20 pm local time over the Atlantic Ocean near the Falkland Islands.
Interestingly, a camera phone and Twitter account did what the USAF couldn’t.
[Image Credit: Bill Chater (@Cheds23)]