Monday, October 24, 2011

Roentgen / ROSAT Hit Earth: Somewhere Around Southeast Asia

"Dead ROSAT Satellite Reenters Over South-East Asia"
Ian O'Neill, Discovery News (October 23, 2011)

"The German Aerospace Center and NASA have confirmed the defunct Roentgen Satellite, or ROSAT, has met its doom, most likely somewhere over SE Asia. German officials have said that the reentry occurred some time between 9:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. EDT on Saturday night.

"Fortunately, there are no reports of falling debris or damage, which means the surviving satellite bits -- around 30 pieces -- most likely crashed safely into the Bay of Bengal, somewhere between the the east coast of India and Indonesia. The location has yet to be confirmed, however.

"If it did come down in the Bay of Bengal, the satellite would have been approaching heavily populated cities in China before it started to tumble through the Earth's atmosphere, a fall that would have taken up to 15 minutes.

"Although the likelihood of the 2.4 ton X-ray satellite causing death and destruction was low (at 1-in-2,000), these odds were higher than last month's NASA Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) crash. The likelihood of UARS hitting someone on Earth was set at 1-in-3,200, even though UARS was a larger piece of kit than ROSAT...."

What made ROSAT particularly dangerous was its mirror: almost three feet across, and weighing 880 pounds. Odds are pretty good that most of it came down in one piece. Even if the mirror broke up during reentry, and the largest piece was only half the size of the original: that'd still be 440 pounds of mirror. Definitely not the sort of thing anyone would want hitting the roof.

As of last night, it looks like nobody got hurt. That's good news.

The bad news is that ROSAT wasn't the only piece of space junk spinning around our planet. The Lemming's no Luddite, and thinks that communications satellites, GPS systems, and all the rest are useful. On the other hand, it's gotten crowded up there: and folks on Earth can't count on being lucky each time something comes in.

Maybe someone will work out a way to make money by salvaging out-of-service satellites. The Lemming's pretty sure that the more earnest folks Earthside would have fits over such capitalistic plots, and there'd have to be some sort of air traffic control (space traffic control?) for the salvage operations. But the Lemming also thinks a 'private sector' solution like that would probably cost less, and might work more effectively than some massive bureaucracy.

Think about it: if Earth goes the 'government' route, the United States, Japan, Russia, China, and India - at minimum - would insist on having full control of the program. The United Kingdom, France, Germany - you get the idea.

Yes, the Lemming thinks 'Ralph's Rockets and Orbital Salvage' would probably work better. Particularly since Ralph would have plenty of competition to keep up with.

And that's another topic.

Slightly-related posts:

3 comments:

Brigid said...

Stutter: "pretty good that it most of it came down"

Well, don't that beat all: "The bad news is that there ROSAT wasn't the only piece"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Fixed, and thanks! "That there?!" I had to read that twice, before I realized what was wrong. Oh, well.

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