Here’s a disquieting thought: a bus-sized, 6.5 ton satellite is going to fall out of orbit and NASA has no idea where it will go. Well, that’s exactly what is going to happen by some time by month’s end as the defunct Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS) will soon plummet to Earth with there being a good possibility of some parts surviving the complete fall and impacting the ground.
So, whats’ the danger level?
According to NASA, the chance of being hit by a falling piece of satellite is ‘extremely small’ and, to date, at no point in time since the dawn of the space age, has anyone ever been hit by a falling piece of satellite debris. The same statement holds true for major property damage. Making things look even better is the fact that the vast majority of Earth’s surface is covered with water, which means any ocean-falling pieces won’t be at risk for hitting anyone, either. As for the amount of debris that could survive the complete descent and hit the ground, a NASA risk assessment study made when UARS was launched in 1991 concluded that around 1,100 pounds, or roughly 10% of the satellite’s total weight in parts could survive the descent. As for these pieces, they are e3xpected to scatter over a 500 miles long path, further decreasing the odds of being hit by anything.
As proof of this, this statistic includes the fact that some very large objects have disintegrated upon uncontrolled atmospheric reentry. Most notably, there was the space shuttle Columbia disaster and the reentry of theSkylab and Mir space stations, all of which were far, far larger that the UARS satellite.
As for where re-entry will take place, there is is no conclusive data just yet. What NASA knows at this point is this: because of the satellite’s orbit, debris could fall anywhere from 57 degrees North to 57 degrees South of the Equator, which is a very big range. As reentry time gets closer and more information becomes available, NASA will continue to issue press releases at an ever-increasing rate to better alert the public as to where debris could wind up landing.
Until then, keep checking NASA’s UARS update page for more info.
Hit the ‘subscribe’ button for automatic email updates when I write something new!
Want to read more of my stuff? Check out my other Examiner columns!
Cleveland Astronomy Examiner
Cleveland Photography Examiner
For more Space news:
New evidence for Martian life, water
Goal of next Mars rover: don’t kill Martians
See brightest supernova in decades right now
Proof that we went to the Moon, again!
NASA launches GRAIL Moon probes
9/11 memorialized on Mars rovers
Want even more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography and Astronomy