On This Day in Space! Dec. 9, 2006: 1st Swedish astronaut launches to the space station

On Nov. 10, 2013, Europe’s GOCE satellite fell to Earth. GOCE is short for Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer. Its mission was to map Earth’s gravitational field. GOCE did this for four years. Then it ran out of fuel.  

Controllers weren’t sure where GOCE would fall back to Earth or linger in orbit. Some people worried that it might crash into a populated area. However, the small spacecraft broke up in the atmosphere and didn’t cause any property damage.

Artist’s conception of the European Space Agency’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite in orbit. The $450 million satellite launched in 2009 to study Earth’s gravity field in unprecedented detail and will fall to Earth in 2013.  (Image credit: ESA /AOES Medialab)

It disintegrated about 50 miles above the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. The European Space Agency called the mission a success. GOCE lasted far longer than expected. It showed small variations in Earth’s gravity, mapped the structure of Earth’s crust and mantle, and tracked ocean currents.