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Dead German satellite on collision course with Earth

Scientists can no longer communicate with the ROSAT satellite, pieces of which are expected to hit Earth as early as Friday.

Associated Press

Scientists can no longer communicate with the ROSAT satellite, pieces of which are expected to hit Earth as early as Friday.

BERLIN — A retired satellite is hurtling toward the atmosphere and pieces of it could crash into Earth as early as Friday, the German Aerospace Center says.

Scientists are no longer able to communicate with the dead German satellite ROSAT, which orbits Earth every 90 minutes, and experts are not sure exactly where pieces of it could land.

Parts of the satellite, which is the size of a minivan, will burn up during re-entry but up to 30 fragments weighing a total of 1.87 tons could crash into Earth sometime between Friday and Monday, center spokesman Andreas Schuetz told the Associated Press.

"All countries around the globe between 53-degrees north and 53-degrees south could possibly be affected," Schuetz said Wednesday. That vast swath of territory includes much of Earth outside the poles.

The 2.69-ton satellite was launched in 1990 and retired in 1999 after being used for research on black holes and neutron stars and performing the first all-sky survey of X-ray sources with an imaging telescope.

ROSAT will re-enter Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 17,400 mph. As it nears Earth in coming days, scientists will be able to more accurately estimate when it will land to a window of about 10 hours.

A dead NASA satellite fell into the southern Pacific Ocean last month, causing no damage, despite fears it would hit a populated area. The German space agency puts the odds of somebody somewhere on Earth being hurt by its satellite at 1-in-2,000 — a slightly higher level of risk than was calculated for the NASA satellite.

Dead German satellite on collision course with Earth 10/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 9:44pm]

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