Tags: NASA | satellite | hit | Earth

NASA Satellite to Break Up, Fall to Earth — Somewhere

Monday, 19 Sep 2011 02:33 PM

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A NASA satellite about the size of a school bus will crash to earth late this week. NASA has yet to figure out when and where the 12,500-pound, 35-foot long Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is likely to hit, The Washington Post reported.

The satellite could hit Thursday, Friday, or Saturday on just about any part of Earth. It is the biggest piece of space junk to re-enter the atmosphere in about 30 years and should create a light show when it hits the atmosphere and breaks into about 100 pieces. More than 25 hunks of the satellite, weighing as much as 300 pounds, will survive re-entry, and the debris field will be about 500 miles long, the Post reported.

The closer the satellite is to re-entry, the better NASA will be able to figure when and where it will hit.

“There are too many variations on solar activity which affect the atmosphere, the drag on the vehicle,” said Nicholas Johnson, chief scientist for orbital debris at NASA.

Expectations are that the satellite will hit the ocean, and the odds that one of the world’s 7 billion human inhabitants will be hit are 1 in 3,200. Stuff has been falling out of orbit for years now, and Johnson told the Post that, in “over 50 years of these things coming back around the world, no one has ever been hurt. There has never been any significant property damage.”

Skylab, 15 times the size of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, re-entered the atmosphere in 1979 and spread debris on the Indian Ocean and Western Australia. The international space station, 80 times larger, will eventually come down, too.

“Rest assured that we have it totally in control,” Jeff Arend, NASA’s program integration manager for the space station, told the Post.

The plan is to attach a spacecraft to the station to direct it to a Pacific Ocean splashdown.


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