The GOCE reentry status as of the 28th of October

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The GOCE satellite is currently at an orbital altitude of 209 by 214 km. The latest forecast suggests a reentry date between the 11th and 13th of November, slightly later than previously expected.

The GOCE (Gravity Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite was placed into orbit on the 17th of March 2009. The satellite was placed into a very low orbit of 280 km initial altitude. Since May 2013, the final orbit was just around 230 km. On such a low orbit the upper atmosphere friction becomes noticeable and GOCE counteracted it by using an ion engine.

GOCE was fueled with 41 kg of xenon gas for its ion engine. The fuel was depleted on the 21st of October 2013 and since that time GOCE is slowly entering the atmosphere and heading for a destructive ending. Forecasts suggest that around 250 kg (40-50 pieces of debris) will survive the rentry and hit the surface or sink in the ocean. Currently, scientists do not know where the reentry will take place – GOCE was placed into a polar orbit, so in theory the debris could hit any point on Earth.

As of the 28th of October GOCE is circling the Earth at an altitude of 209 by 214 km. The reentry process is so far linear: no significant changes in the reentry rate were detected. The newest forecast suggests that GOCE will be destroyed between the 11th and 13th of November – slightly later than the initial calculations from the previous week. However, these calculations can change.

The solar activity has additionally picked up in recent days. This may result in the expansion of the upper atmosphere, which would speed up the satellite reentry. However, no changes to the predicted altitude loss have been observed.

(PFA, SO)

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