US satellite splash-down

Saturday August 29, 2020 Written by Published in Weather
A NASA artist’s depiction of the OGO-1 travelling through the outer atmosphere. 20082855 A NASA artist’s depiction of the OGO-1 travelling through the outer atmosphere. 20082855

It was in September 1964 that NASA launched the satellite OGO-1 into orbit to study Earth’s magnetic environment and how the planet interacts with the sun.

Back then, Cook Islanders were among those fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, “Pretty Woman” by Rob Orbison was No 1 in the charts, and Cook Islands was still governed from Wellington, New Zealand.

The satellite Orbiting Geophysics Observatory 1, to give it its full name, quietly gathered data until 1969, before it the US officially decommissioned it in 1971.

The 56-year-old spacecraft has been zipping around Earth on a two-day orbit ever since.

Now, Earth’s gravity has finally caught up with it, and it is expected to crash through the atmosphere today – and plunge into the Pacific Ocean east of Cook Islands.

The best place to see any part of OGO-1’s flaming re-entry would be the eastern end of Rarotonga, says local astronomer Phil Evans.

The islands of Nga Putoru (Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke) may have a better view as they are further east.

This would not be the first American spacecraft to splash down in Cooks waters: the damaged Apollo 13 splashed down safely just to the west of Rarotonga, in 1970. Several other Apollo flights landed in other Cook Islands waters, or just to the north.

The astronauts of Apollo 15 named their space capsule Endeavour, after Captain James Cook’s ship.

Evans said there was a lot of water (more than 1100 km) between Rarotonga and Tahiti and the exact point of impact has not been specified.

“The time, though, is expected to be around 11:10 am Saturday,” he said.

“The weather is forecasted to be partly cloudy, a bit like today, so the chances of seeing anything are quite small.

“If it were to be visible I would expect a bright streak moving much slower than a meteor and breaking up into many fiery pieces as it impacts the atmosphere.”

He added that satellites orbit at speeds less than 40,000kmh, unlike meteors that travel faster than 70,000kmh.

NASA says: “The spacecraft will break up in the atmosphere and poses no threat to our planet – or anyone on it – and this is a normal final operational occurrence for retired spacecraft.”

Leave a comment