PARIS, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- A European satellite that has been mapping Earth's gravitational field will succumb to gravity and fall in the next few days, officials said Wednesday.
By the time it hits Earth, expected between Saturday and Monday, the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE for short, will be in fragments, The New York Times reported. But the largest could weigh as much as 200 pounds, and scientists are still unsure where the drop point will be.
The European Space Agency launched GOCE in 2009. The satellite has an ion engine that allowed it to remain in a low orbit 160 miles above Earth, but once it ran out of fuel last month scientists had no way to guide it to a safe place.
Rune Floberghagen, the mission manager, said scientists will be able to narrow the time of the satellite's fall as it gets nearer. But because the satellite is on a pole-to-pole orbit it could be almost anywhere.
Floberghagen said about 15 to 20 square yards of Earth's surface might be at risk because of the satellite.
"If you compare that to the surface of the planet, it's a very small number," he told the Times.
Two recent satellites ended up in the Pacific Ocean.