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The Hindu : News / International : NASA’s “errant satellite” plummeting to earth at 27,000 kph.

Posted on: September 23, 2011

The Hindu : News / International : NASA’s “errant satellite” plummeting to earth at 27,000 kph.

In this file image provided by NASA is the STS-48 onboard photo of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) in the grasp of the RMS (Remote Manipulator System) during deployment, from the shuttle in September 1991. NASA's old research satellite is expected to come crashing down through the atmosphere Friday afternoon, September 23, 2011, Eastern Time.
AP In this file image provided by NASA is the STS-48 onboard photo of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) in the grasp of the RMS (Remote Manipulator System) during deployment, from the shuttle in September 1991. NASA’s old research satellite is expected to come crashing down through the atmosphere Friday afternoon, September 23, 2011, Eastern Time.

To anyone who grew up on a staple diet of Asterix comics, the illustrated series about a Gaulish tribe by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, it is well-known that their greatest fear was that the sky would one day fall on their heads.

Today the fears of that tiny tribe gripped the entire world as a massive but dead satellite floating on the outer edge of the earth’s atmosphere began a fiery, high-velocity descent of indeterminate terminal location.

The bus-sized Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, launched in 1991 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is 35 feet long, 15 feet in diameter, and weighs a staggering 6,500 kilograms. It will re-enter the earth’s atmosphere sometime Friday night or early Saturday Eastern Time NASA said, noting that it was as yet too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with precision.

However the agency cautioned that it could not rule out the United States as a landing spot, saying, “There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent.”

Meanwhile a U.S. Air Force space operations team in California was said to be tracking the “errant satellite’s” movements. “If the satellite doesn’t incinerate when it enters Earth’s atmosphere, NASA officials expect to see 25 or 26 pieces of debris from the craft. The biggest piece is estimated to weigh 300 pounds,” Jeremy Eggers, Public Affairs Director for the operations centre, said in a statement.

If the satellite doesn’t incinerate when it enters Earth’s atmosphere, NASA officials expect to see 25 or 26 pieces of debris from the craft, the USAF said, adding that the biggest piece is estimated to weigh around 136 kilograms. It was currently estimated to be travelling at approximately 27,000 kilometres per hour.

NASA however hastened to add that the risk that “re-entering orbital debris” posed to public safety or property was “extremely small” because a significant amount of such debris does not survive the severe heating which occurs during re-entry.

“Components which do survive are most likely to fall into the oceans or other bodies of water or onto sparsely populated regions like the Canadian Tundra, the Australian Outback, or Siberia in the Russian Federation,” NASA explained, adding that during the last 50 years an average of one catalogued piece of debris fell back to Earth each day and “no serious injury or significant property damage caused by re-entering debris has been confirmed.”

Yet obviously no place on earth was entirely safe from the dead satellite’s descent – in a small footnote on its website NASA recommended: “If you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance.” This of course assumes it missed the individual in question.

-(via TheHindu)

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