The fall to Earth takes a long time

Credit: ESA / UNOOSA

The atmosphere of our planet reduces the energy of satellites in orbit (on Earth it would be like reducing their speed, but in space it is complex!). That then brings them back to earth.

This process can be relatively fast for satellites flying at low altitudes, taking less than 25 years, but for satellites launched into orbits tens of thousands of kilometers can take thousands of years before they return, if the atmosphere can affect them at all.

If dinosaurs had launched a satellite into the farthest geostationary orbit, it would still be up there today.

This means that as we launch satellites into space we must consider how they will be removed at the end of their lives, otherwise the sky will be filled with old, inactive spacecraft in danger of collision, explosion and almost certain generation of huge amounts of space debris.

In this ESA and UNOOSA infographic, find out how long it would take satellites at different altitudes to naturally fall back to Earth and what must be handled responsibly at the end of their lives.


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Provided by the European Space Agency

Citation: Fall to Earth Lasts Long (2021, February 17) Retrieved February 17, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-02-falling-earth.html

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