No debris reports yet from falling satellite

The German x-ray satellite ROSAT AP/NASA

BERLIN - Scientists were trying to establish how and where a defunct German research satellite returned to the Earth Sunday, after warning that some parts might survive re-entry and crash at up to 280 mph.

There was no immediate solid evidence to determine above which continent or country the ROSAT scientific research satellite entered the atmosphere, said Andreas Schuetz, spokesman for the German Aerospace Center.

German Aerospace Center: ROSAT

Most parts of the minivan-sized satellite were expected to burn up, but up to 30 fragments weighing a total of 1.87 tons could have crashed.

The center said the satellite entered the atmosphere between 0145 and 0215 GMT Sunday (9:45 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. Saturday EDT) and would have taken only 10 or 15 minutes to hit the ground.

German satellite expected to hit Earth Sunday

Schuetz said it could take days to determine exactly where pieces of the satellite had fallen, but that the agency had not received any reports that it had hit any populated areas.

"I don't think that we'll have a confirmation of any sort today," he said, pointing out that it also took NASA several days to establish where one of its satellites had hit last month.

Scientists said hours before the re-entry into the atmosphere that the satellite was not expected to hit over Europe, Africa or Australia. According to a precalculated path it could have been above Asia, possibly China, at the time of its re-entry, but Schuetz said he could not confirm that.

The 2.69-ton scientific ROSAT satellite was launched in 1990 and retired in 1999 after being used for research on black holes and neutron stars and performing the first all-sky survey of X-ray sources with an imaging telescope.

The largest single fragment of ROSAT that could hit into the earth is the telescope's heat-resistant mirror.

During its mission, the satellite orbited about 370 miles (600 kilometers) above the Earth's surface, but after its decommissioning it lost altitude, circling at a distance of only 205 miles (330 kilometers) above ground in June for example, the agency said.

Even in the last days, the satellite still circled the planet every 90 minutes, making it hard to predict where on Earth it would eventually come down.

A dead NASA satellite fell into the southern Pacific Ocean last month, causing no damage, despite fears it would hit a populated area and cause damage or kill people.

Experts believe about two dozen metal pieces from the bus-sized satellite fell over a 500-mile span.

The German space agency put the odds of somebody somewhere on Earth being hurt by its satellite at one in 2,000 — a slightly higher level of risk than was calculated for the NASA satellite. But any one individual's odds of being struck were one in 14 trillion, given there are 7 billion people on the planet.

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