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Out-of-fuel satellite incinerated as it entered atmosphere, officials say

  • GOCE satellite 3.jpg

    An artist's impression of the GOCE satellite in orbit. In order to precisely measure the planet's gravity, the sleek, 16-foot long satellite is designed to orbit at a very low altitude -- just 160 miles above the Earth. (AOES Medialab)

  • GOCE satellite 2.jpg

    An artist's impression of the GOCE satellite in orbit. In order to precisely measure the planet's gravity, the sleek, 16-foot long satellite is designed to orbit at a very low altitude -- just 160 miles above the Earth. (ESA - AOES Medialab)

  • GOCE Satellite 1.jpg

    A precise model of Earth's 'geoid' -- essentially a virtual surface map of where water does not flow from one point to another -- is crucial for deriving accurate measurements of ocean circulation and sea-level change. In this map from GOCE, colors represent deviations in height (100 m to +100 m) from an ideal geoid. (ESA/HPF/DLR)

Officials at the European Space Agency said Monday that a 2,000-pound satellite that had been steadily sinking toward Earth after it ran out of fuel last month re-entered the atmosphere Sunday, and disintegrated.

In a status report posted on the European Space Agency's website, scientists said the GOCE, or Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, re-entered Earth's atmosphere at 1:00 a.m. Central European Time Monday (7 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday) on a descending orbit pass that extended across Siberia, the western Pacific Ocean, the eastern Indian Ocean and Antarctica.

"As expected, the satellite disintegrated in the high atmosphere and no damage to property has been reported," the report said. 

The agency earlier estimated on its website that about 25 percent of the spacecraft survived re-entry and has fallen into the ocean.

"By the time you read this, the spacecraft's amazing flight will, most likely, have come to an end," spokesman Daniel Scuka wrote in an update posted around 6:45 p.m. on the agency's website.

GOCE had been orbiting Earth since March 2009 at the lowest altitude of any research satellite. With a sleek, aerodynamic design meant to eliminate drag on the craft from the planet -- it's been called the "Ferrari of space" -- GOCE has mapped variations in Earth’s gravity, creating a model of the planet's "geoid."

The satellite was 17.4 feet long, according to the European Space Agency. A 2014 Chevrolet Suburban is 18.5 feet long, including the bumpers. The slim satellite was only 1/3 the weight of the truck, however.

As far as anyone knows, falling space debris has never injured anyone -- although one woman came dangerously close. Nor has significant property damage been reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report