Satellite ERS-2 falling towards reentry to Earth Wednesday: ESA

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After spending over a decade on a mission in space, a now-defunct satellite is projected to return to Earth on Wednesday.

ERS-2, one of the European Space Agency’s first advanced Earth observing satellites, will make a “natural” reentry after staying in space for 16 years.

Live updates from ESA

According to live updates from the ESA, the agency predicts the reentry will occur at 12:05 p.m. EST, with an uncertainty of plus-or-minus 30 minutes, but we are now passed the center of the reentry window.

ERS-2 launched in 1995 and was initially planned to serve the ESA for three years. However, it remained in operation until 2011, providing data for over 5,000 projects, including tracking Earth’s shrinking polar ice, sea levels and atmospheric make-up.

The majority of the 2.5 ton satellite will disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere, according to the agency. Remaining debris is likely to land in a body of water, though the agency does not have a prediction on where it will land.

Graphics: A dead satellite will crash back to Earth this Wednesday. What to know.

Where will the satellite reenter?

In its latest update, the ESA identified a projected reentry point roughly 50 miles over the Pacific Ocean. Upon reentry, the ESA predicts the satellite will begin to break up and the majority of it will burn, with any remaining pieces to be spread out “somewhat randomly” over a span of hundreds of kilometers (1 kilometer = 0.62 miles).

The ESA stresses the point of reentry is not certain due to the difficulty of forecasting the density of air through which the object is passing.

How ERS-2 spent its time in space

The space agency used the satellite to track the Earth’s decreasing polar ice, shifting land masses, rising sea levels, warming oceans and changing atmospheric chemistry. Since the satellite’s retirement, the agency has been slowly lowering its altitude.

Contributing: James Powel, USA TODAY staff

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