Satellite to crash at 4am next Tuesday

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Science Correspondent

If you have not taken out insurance on your house, it might be a good idea to do so. A one-tonne Chinese satellite is plummeting out of control towards Earth and there is a 1 in 300 chance it will land in Britain.

According to European Space Agency calculations, the satellite - called FSW-1 - will crash into the Earth at 4am next Tuesday, at a speed of about 450mph. "If you were there when it entered the atmosphere, you would probably first hear a sonic boom [as it slowed down below the speed of sound], followed by a loud crash on impact," said Richard Crowther, of the Defence Research Agency in Farnborough, which is monitoring the satellite's progress.

The satellite is in an elliptical orbit which takes it around Earth every 90 minutes, between 56 degrees north and 56 degrees south of the Equator. At present, it spends a total of about five minutes each day over the UK. Its altitude varies between 85 and 270 miles, and as it skims the atmosphere on each circuit it slows down, like a spinning stone skipping over water. Eventually it will be moving too slowly to stay aloft.

It is impossible to predict where the satellite will land until its final orbit, and even then only with about 30 minutes' warning. The Home Office has urged local authorities to prepare "emergency measures".

Universal Question, Section Two