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German satellite plunged to Earth on October 22 after languishing in a dead orbit for more than a decade, but officials do not yet know where it fell. The 2.7-ton Roentgen Satellite, or ROSAT, slammed into Earth’s atmosphere sometime between 9:45 p.m. EDT (0145 GMT Sunday) and 10:15 p.m. EDT (0215 GMT Sunday). There is currently no confirmation if pieces of debris have reached Earth’s surface. While the 21-year-old satellite broke apart as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, German aerospace officials estimated that up to 30 pieces totaling 1.9 tons (1.7 metric tons), consisting mostly of the observatory’s heat-resistant mirrors and ceramic parts, could survive the fiery trip and reach the surface of the planet.
The satellite, which weighs 5,348 pounds (2,426 kilograms), was launched into orbit in June 1990 to study X-ray radiation from stars, comets, supernovas, nebulas and black holes, among other things. The satellite was originally designed for an 18-month mission, but it far outlived its projected lifespan. Mission controllers initially estimated that ROSAT could fall to Earth in November, but increased solar activity caused the satellite’s orbit to decay faster than originally expected.
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