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.”