Published October 21, 2015
Fragments of a defunct Russian reconnaissance satellite have reportedly burned up in the atmosphere.
The satellite, part of the Soviet naval missile targeting system, was launched into orbit in November 1980 from Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union. Its mission ended in 1982, RT.com said.
As of October 2013, more than 800 floating bits of space debris posed a potential threat to the International Space Station, according to NASA. Of these, 10 percent were spacecraft, either functional or non-operational, a third were rocket bodies, and the remainder were miscellaneous debris, the Orbital Debris Program Office noted in a recent newsletter. Some weigh several metric tons.
The satellite's reentry sparked fears that it could land on a civilian population, though analysts expressed confidence it would land in the Pacific Ocean.
Similar uncontrolled descents – such as the November 2013 re-entry of the European Space Agency’s GOCE satellite – have crashed harmlessly into the ocean. But in 1978, a different decommissioned Kosmos satellite crashed into an unoccupied part of Canada, spreading radioactive debris and leading to a lengthy clean-up. And in 2009, a third Kosmos satellite crashed at over 26,000 miles per hour with a U.S. Iridium telecommunications satellite, sending thousands of bits of space junk into orbit.
FoxNews.com's Jeremy Kaplan contributed to this report.