September 24 has dawned to the news that NASA’s defunct Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS) has fallen from orbit, with initial reports placing the location of the fall over the Pacific Ocean. According to both NASA and the Air Force, the satellite entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean around 1 midnight this morning, give or take about an hour. However, as there was a wide fall range possible, there is no conformation on just where the satellite landed as of this writing (8:30am EDT)
For the world, the confirmed fall of the satellite ended a week’s worth of excitement, or one could say nervousness, about where the 1,200 pounds of remains from the 6.5 ton satellite would land. So far, due to lack of reports about pieces of the satellite hitting anything, the implication is that it fell harmlessly into the water.
For the UARS satellite, this is the end of a 20 year life (14 years of which were operational) that was, at launch in 1991, expected to last only about 3 years. The first plans for the UARS satellite were dawn up way back in 1979, around the time that the ozone hole over Antarctica was first discovered. While the total package of instruments on the satellite was to analyze the upper atmosphere as a whole, the headline part of the mission was to try and determine what was causing the depletion of the Earth’s protective ozone layer.
Much like the twin Mars rovers, the UARS was still in good ‘health’ upon completion of its 3 year designed mission. With the satellite still functioning, NASA decided to keep it in orbit and monitoring the upper atmosphere in order to gain more knowledge about the area where Earth meets space. Finally, in 2005, with just a few instruments working and fuel running out, NASA pulled the plug on the UARS, leaving it to float through space as a 13,000 pound piece of space junk until the inevitable fall back to Earth happened, which took place this morning.
In the final weeks of the satellite’s flight, the world was abuzz over the knowledge that a bus-sized satellite would soon fall from orbit. Initially, NASA gave the fall time a span of anywhere between mid September and October, refining the predictions down to weeks, and then days as the fall neared. However, it was not until the final hours proceeding the fall that NASA was finally able to pin down a location of just where it would occur.
Now, the world awaits confirmation of the fall location and, just maybe, photos.
Complete UARS coverage:
Official NASA updates
Q&A with space junk expert
NASA begins to estimate fall zone
Re-entry fireball could be as bright as Full Moon
FEMA braces for the worst
Amateur’s amazing UARS video
Track the UARS on your Android
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