For the world, Saturday morning’s confirmed fall of NASA’s Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS) 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. Unfortunately, NASA had no luck in determining exactly where the satellite fell, until now.
Yesterday, NASA announced that the satellite re-entered the atmosphere just South of the Equator over the Pacific Ocean, went over the ocean, below Australia, and finally concluded its breakup over the Indian Ocean just short of Madagascar. All told, the satellite’s re-entry path took it over nothing larger land-wise than the tiny islands of the South Pacific.
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, fall site found, the story is finally over.
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