German satellite almost crashed in Beijing

It sounds like the story of a disaster film: a 2.5-ton scrap Satellite directly flew to Beijing without control. The satellite crashed just before the coast in the Bay of Bengal in October 2011. If it had crashed seven to ten minutes later, it would hit Beijing, the Chinese metropolis of 17.6 million residents. German news magazine “Der Spiegel” reported this horror scenario and the near-catastrophe.

After 21 years in space, German research satellite “Rosat” cracked in autumn 2011 in the Bay of Bengal, east of India. It was an uncontrolled crash, so no one knew exactly beforehand whether, when and where the parts of the satellite would hit.

The danger was not great, however, the scientists stressed. The probability that a person gets hit by the satellite is only about 0.04 percent.

But in hindsight, experts were able to trace the flight path of the satellite – and shows that the Beijing-disaster was absolutely in the realm of possibility.

“Our calculations show that Beijing would have been hit exactly when ‘Rosat’ would have crashed seven to ten minutes later,” says Heiner Klinkrad, head of the Office for Outer Space residues of the European Space Agency ESA.

Manfred Warhaut, Mission Operations Director at the European Space Operations, said: “Beijing was exactly on the crash path of ‘Rosat’.”
Before entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the satellite accelerated through space to 466 kilometers per minute. After the entry into the atmosphere it broke, then the debris was slower.

If “Rosat” had crashed in Beijing, it would have been very expensive for Germany. According to the existing international space law since 1972, a country is liable for any consequential damages, if it sends satellites or rockets into space.

Since X-ray satellite “Rosat” was lead by the German Aerospace Center, it was built and operated by Gemans. the Federal Republic of Germany would have to pay for the damages.

Not only the earth is threatened by falling debris – the space itself has always had problems from flying objects. The International Space Station ISS just had to change course to avoid a collision with a Chinese satellite debris.

The six crew members have increased their flight path by 1.7 kilometers, said the aerospace control center in Moscow, according to the Itar-Tass.

For years, the ISS have been forced to take evasive action because of space debris. There was no damage so far. But experts warn of potential collisions – because with an impact velocity of 50000km/h, even a small screw can cause serious disaster.

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