Not a Scene From Star Wars: This Is a Real Satellite Falling to Earth

Not a Scene From Star Wars: This Is a Real Satellite Falling to Earth

Many Star Wars fans probably thought they were dreaming when the European Space Agency published images of what looked like a TIE starfighter in space. Alas, it wasn’t the Empire, but rather glimpses of a decades-old Earth observation satellite making its return home.

The recent images of the satellite, known as the second European Remote Sensing satellite, or ERS-2, were taken by space tech company HEO using cameras onboard other satellites. ESA has been preparing for ERS-2’s reentry since early February. It decommissioned ERS-2 back in 2011 and subsequently began the years-long deorbiting process, which entailed lowering the ERS-2’s altitude to avoid collisions with other satellites and depleting its remaining fuel.


The 2-ton satellite finally made its uncontrolled reentry into Earth’s atmosphere on Wednesday, when it reached an altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometers) and began breaking into pieces due to the atmospheric drag. ERS-2 landed in the North Pacific Ocean between Alaska and Hawaii, ESA reported, and there was no damage to property.

“Goodnight everyone. Goodnight ERS-2,” ESA Operations said on X after it confirmed the satellite’s final resting place.

Launched in 1995, ERS-2 was one of the most sophisticated Earth observation satellites ever developed. It featured an array of instruments to measure ocean-surface temperature, winds at sea, and atmospheric ozone. Most importantly, ERS-2 gathered critical data that advanced our understanding of climate change, which was far less understood than it is today, ESA said.

Data from ERS-2 and its sister satellite, ERS-1, have contributed to thousands of scientific papers. The satellites also laid the foundation for future missions on Earth observation, such as Envisat. At 8 tons, Envisat was the largest Earth observation satellite ever built and orbited the planet more than 50,000 times.

In a statement, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs Simonetta Cheli highlighted the insights and new research opportunities gained from the ERS satellites. “The ERS satellites have provided a stream of data which has changed our view of the world in which we live,” Cheli said.

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