During the height of the space race in the 1960s, the US launched a series of satellites designed to study the planet. The six Orbiting Geophysical Observatory (OGO) spacecraft improved our understanding of Earth’s magnetic field, shutting down a few years later. However, one of those forlorn satellites known as OGO-1 has just made the news again by finally falling back to Earth after 56 years.
NASA launched OGO on September 4, 1964 from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas-Agena B rocket. While somewhat primitive by today’s standards, the Atlas-Agena launched some of the most important early missions in the US space program. Another OGO satellite followed every year through 1969, each one adding to our knowledge of space operations at this crucial time when we were moving quickly toward a moon landing. Most OGO satellites dropped back to Earth several years after being decommissioned, but OGO-5 managed to hang on until 2011. OGO-1 was the first to launch, and until a few days ago, it was the only one still in orbit.
OGO-1 operated from 1964 until 1971, but NASA didn’t have any capacity to manually de-orbit the spacecraft as it often does today. So, OGO-1 just continued drifting through the heavens as high-altitude atmospheric particles slowly brought it down over the years. The University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) detected an object on August 25th that appeared to be on an impact trajectory with Earth. The CSS is funded by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which keeps an eye out for dangerous space rocks. The team initially believed the signal was an asteroid but later determined it to be OGO-1.
NASA has confirmed that OGO-1 finally returned to Earth on August 29th at 4:44 PM EDT. It plunged into the atmosphere, reentering about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Tahiti — it was in an equatorial orbit, unlike some other OGO missions that were in polar orbits. The satellite was about 250 pounds (113 kilograms), making it large enough to be visible during its reentry. Several amateur videos show the probe burning up as it fell into the atmosphere.
So, let’s bid a fond farewell to this artifact from the past. After 56 years, OGO-1 is back on Earth. Yes, it’s probably in pieces on the ocean floor, but it still counts.
- Astronomers Warn Massive Satellite Fleets Could Change Astronomy Forever
- Russian Satellite Alters Orbit to Shadow US Spy Satellite
- NOAA’s GOES-17 Satellite Reaches Final Location, Sends Back Awesome Images