It was called RHESSI, and it was from NASA. It disintegrated in the atmosphere this March 20. It happened almost 21 years after its launch. We are talking about the spacecraft that fell over the Sahara.
From 2002 until its decommissioning in 2018, it observed solar flares from its low Earth orbit. It sought to understand how these powerful bursts of energy are created.
US Department of Defense confirmed. The 300-kilogram spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere over the Sahara desert region. It was at 21.3 degrees north latitude and 26 degrees east longitude, in the Sudan area. NASA expected most of the spacecraft to burn up on the trip. However, it was possible that some components would survive re-entry.
The spacecraft was launched aboard an Orbital Sciences Corporation Pegasus XL rocket. Its only instrument was an imaging spectrometer, which recorded X-rays and gamma rays from the sun. It was a pioneer in taking these images.
RHESSI data provided vital clues about solar flares and their associated coronal mass ejections. These events release the energy equivalent to billions of megatons of TNT into the solar atmosphere. Understanding them is a real challenge, according to NASA.
RHESSI recorded more than 100,000 X-ray events. This allowed scientists to study energetic particles in solar flares. The imager helped researchers determine the frequency, location and motion of the particles.
Over the years, RHESSI documented the enormous variety in the size of solar flares. He even made discoveries unrelated to flares. For example, he improved measurements of the Sun’s shape. And it showed that terrestrial gamma-ray flares are more common than previously thought.
After 16 years of operations, NASA decommissioned RHESSI. They were having a lot of communication difficulties with the spacecraft that fell over the Sahara. It disintegrated before landing, but its records persist.