Cosmos 1220 spy satellite safely burns up in atmosphere

Amateur video of Cosmos 1220 burning up over Saudi Arabia during re-entry Sunday

The Russian military reconnaissance satellite launched in 1980 and designed to spy on enemy naval forces met a fiery end Sunday morning when it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere around 8 a.m. CST. This according to Russian defence ministry spokesman Colonel Dmitry Zenin.

Because Cosmos 1220 was an older satellite with no protocols set up to pilot it to a safe fall over an ocean, there was some concern that any debris surviving re-entry might crash down over inhabited lands. While I haven’t heard exactly where it came down and whether any pieces have been found, there have been no reports of injuries out of Saudi Arabia or anywhere else connected to machines falling out of the sky.

The most recent large satellite to de-orbit and burn up was the European Gravity Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) on November 10, 2013. It disintegrated in the South Atlantic Ocean near the Falkland Islands.

A satellite falling on your head is a scary thought until you consider the broader context. Heiner Klinkrad, head of the ESA’s Space Debris Office at the time of GOCE’s descent put it this way: “In the 56 years of spaceflight, some 15,000 tonnes of man-made space objects have re-entered the atmosphere without causing a single human injury to date.”

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

4 thoughts on “Cosmos 1220 spy satellite safely burns up in atmosphere

  1. So does the fact that there have been no known injuries to date simply mean that the chances of injuries happening are actually increased for the next time space debris falls to Earth? ;) The chances are slim to miniscule, I know. But eventually someone wins the lottery.

    Live ready!

    • Bob,
      I think with the increasing amount of space debris combined with a growing world population, chances are slowly increasing though they are still “astronomically” small so to speak.

    • No, probabilities are not cumulative. They do not work that way, for either a satellite falling on someone, or the lottery.

      If you flip a coin, the odds it will land heads up are ~50%. If you flip it a second time, the odds of heads are still 50%. If you get tails 10 times in a row, the odds it will land heads up on the 11th toss are…still 50%.

      • The binomial therom of probably says you’re incorrect.. odds are cumulative for a SERIES of events. If you flip a coin 50 times the odds of not having at least one heads is very small, even though the odds of each INDIVIDUAL trial is 50/50.

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