Tiny particle blows hole in European satellite's solar panel

BERLIN — With its sights firmly fixed on Earth, Europe's eye in the sky never saw it coming.

A tiny piece of debris has punched a gaping hole in the solar panel of one of its Earth observation satellites, causing visible damage but not enough to affect its routine operations, the European Space Agency said Wednesday.

The unknown particle just a few millimeters big slammed into the back of a solar panel on Copernicus Sentinel-1A on Aug. 23. Using on-board cameras, engineers have determined that the hole is about 40 centimeters (16 inches) in diameter.

The European Space Agency said the loss of power caused by the strike is "relatively small" — less than 5 percent of the wing's usual output.

The incident highlights the danger that both natural and man-made debris poses to satellites and other spacecraft orbiting Earth.

The likelihood of such a strike is calculated at between 1:35 and 1:130 during the satellite's five-year lifetime, said Holger Krag, who heads the agency's space debris office.

Smaller, dust-sized particles hit satellites all the time, but this one was several magnitude's bigger, he said.

While the particle probably had a mass of less than one 1 gram (0.04 ounces), scientists calculated that it was traveling at up to 40,000 kilometers an hour (24,856 mph) when it hit Sentinel-1A.

The satellite was launched in 2014. It uses radar to track environmental changes such as sea ice cover, land use or oil spills.

You may also like these

Rights group: China using personal data as...

Feb 27, 2018

Human Rights Watch finds evidence that authorities in one of China's most repressive regions are...

China sets ambitious growth target, promises...

Mar 5, 2018

China's top economic official has set a robust growth target of "around 6.5 percent" and promised...

AP Explains: US targets heart of China's economic...

Apr 10, 2018

President Donald Trump's threat to hike tariffs on technology imports from China strikes at the...

China: Smaller trade surplus, OK. But tech...

Jun 4, 2018

China says it will narrow its trade surplus with the United States but rejects pressure to change...

US, China raise tariffs in new round of trade...

Aug 23, 2018

US, China impose tariff hikes on additional goods in new escalation of battle over Beijing's...

About Us

Science Tech Today is all about the present with what’s new in the Science and Technology world. “Keep up with today, and don’t be left behind.”

Contact us: sales[at]sciencetechtoday.com

Subscribe Now!