London: Beijing, the Chinese capital was "perilously close" to a major catastrophe when the city came directly in the flight path of a bus-sized defunct German satellite when it plunged into the Bay of Bengal last October, the European Space Agency said.
The consequences of chunks of the 2.5 tonne Rosat satellite falling into Beijing city, inhabited by some 20 million people, would have been catastrophic.
Parts of the satellite would likely have torn deep craters into the city, may have destroyed buildings and almost certainly would have resulted in human casualties.
It was "perilously close," to hitting Beijing at nearly 300 miles per hour, the European Space Agency said.
"Beijing lay directly in the path of its last orbit," Daily Mail quoted Manfred Warhaut of the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany as saying.
But scientists had no way of controlling it once it went out of business miles above the earth.
"Our calculations showed that, if Rosat had crashed to the ground just seven to 10 minutes later, it would have hit Beijing," Heiner Klinkrad, head of the ESA`s Space Debris team said.
An impact "was very much within the realm of possibility," Klinkrad said.
Normally, some 20 to 40 per cent of a satellite reaches the Earth`s surface when it falls out of orbit.
"But with Rosat, we knew it would be around 60 per cent because it was made out of particularly heavy and durable parts," said Klinkrad.
Rosat was one of the closest-run things yet involving `space junk` returning to earth.
Rosat went aloft on June 1, 1990 when launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral on a quest to search for the sources of X-ray radiation.
A mission intended to last just 18 months, the satellite remained transmitting data about black holes and far off galaxies for nine years.
It began falling towards earth after a further redundant 11 years on October 22 last year.
Still spokesperson Bernard Von Weyhe said that ten minutes in space time is a long time.
The satellite travels so fast that "if it hit one minute earlier it would have been in Siberia and one minute later in the Pacific Ocean," Von Weyhe said.