There are a fair number of spacecraft currently orbiting Mars, and each will eventually reach the end of its useful life. Satellites in low Earth orbit are routinely de-orbited at the end of their life, burning up in Earth's atmosphere. Is de-orbiting a similarly reliable way to dispose of satellites in Mars orbit? Can a re-entering object without a heat shield be expected even in the worst cases to burn up, vaporize, or at least be broken up into pieces that cause no greater impact to equipment, future astronauts, or natural features than the endogenous dust storms?

Related: If I drop a feather from orbit, would it burn up or "hit" the ground?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ ...threatening to what? $\endgroup$ Jun 22 '21 at 0:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is the Planetary Protection Protocol in scope for this question, or are you more worried about things that would punch a hole in a habitat? $\endgroup$ Jun 22 '21 at 0:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ potentially related: How could InSight's seismometers be intentionally and meaningfully “pinged”? If you want to know if some parts could reach the surface, or if it could biologically contaminate the surface, then ask those directly. Right now it's not clear what "reliable disposal" and "threatening" mean in your question. Threat to what exactly? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jun 22 '21 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ @WayneConrad: The answer should focus on the size and velocity of potential impact pieces. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Jun 22 '21 at 3:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon those have only a tiny effect on the hazard to any person or object on the surface. Even if no attempt is made to control the impact location, the surface area of Mars is equivalent to the total land area of Earth, and the hazard is miniscule. If the impact location is controlled, the hazard is effectively zero. $\endgroup$ Jun 22 '21 at 13:03

Based on this similar question provided asking about meteors, I suspect the answer is that no, you could not safely assume that satellites would fully disintegrate. If your concern is the threat to astronauts on the surface though, that chance is very, very minimal.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.