Satellite landed, exact site not yet known: NASA

Sep 24, 2011 by Kerry Sheridan
FILE - In this file image provided by NASA this 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, Sept. 23, 2011 Eastern Time. The spacecraft will not be passing over North America then, the space agency said in a statement Wednesday evening. (AP Photo/NASA)

A decommissioned NASA satellite, the biggest piece of US space junk to fall in 30 years, has crash-landed but the precise location is not yet known, the US space agency said early Saturday.

NASA has repeatedly said there is only a "very remote" risk to the public from the 26 fragments of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) which were expected to survive the fiery re-entry into the atmosphere.

The satellite fell back to Earth between 11:23 pm Friday and 1:09 am Saturday (0323-0509 GMT Saturday), but the precise re-entry time and location "are not yet known with certainty," NASA said.

"The Joint Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California said the satellite penetrated the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean," it later said, noting the landing site was still not confirmed.

On its Twitter feed, NASA said, "If debris fell on land (and that's still a BIG if), Canada is most likely area."

The two dozen parts of the UARS that may have survived re-entry could weigh anything from two to 350 pounds (1-158 kilograms), the space agency said, and the debris field is expected to span 500 miles (800 kilometers).

Earlier, Canada, Africa and Australia had all been named as possible sites for touchdown of debris from the tour-bus-sized UARS.

The tumbling motion of the satellite has made it difficult to narrow down the location. And given that the world is 70 percent water, an ocean landing was considered likely.

"In the entire 50 plus year history of the space program, no person has ever been injured by a piece of re-entering space debris," said Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at NASA.

"Keep in mind we have bits of debris re-entering the atmosphere every single day."

On Friday, a NASA spokeswoman said the US Department of Defense and the space agency were busy tracking the debris and keeping all federal disaster agencies informed.

The issued a notice Thursday to pilots and flight crews of the potential hazard, and urged them to report any falling space debris and take note of its position and time.

On Friday, Italy's civil protection agency warned that the probability of a crash in its northern territory had risen from 0.6 to 1.5 percent, and urged residents to stay indoors, on lower floors, preferably near load-bearing walls.

experts say of this size from broken-down satellites and spent rockets tends to fall back to Earth about once a year, though this is the biggest to fall in three decades.

NASA's 85-ton Skylab crashed into western Australia in 1979.

The surviving chunks of the UARS, which launched in 1991 and was decommissioned in 2005, will likely include titanium fuel tanks, beryllium housing and stainless steel batteries and wheel rims.

"No consideration ever was given to shooting it down," NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey said.

The craft contains no fuel and so is not expected to explode on impact, and NASA also said on Twitter that talk of "flaming " was a "myth."

"Pieces of UARS landing on Earth will not be very hot. Heating stops 20 miles up, cools after that," NASA said, adding that UARS contains nothing radioactive but its metal fragments could be sharp.

The has warned anyone who comes across what they believe may be UARS debris not to touch it but to contact authorities for assistance.

Space law professor Frans von der Dunk from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told AFP that the United States will likely have to pay damages to any country where the debris falls.

"The damage to be compensated is essentially without limit," von der Dunk said, referring to the 1972 Liability Convention to which the United States is one of 80 state signatories.

Explore further: NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA satellite to crash into Earth Friday

Sep 23, 2011

A six-ton satellite hurtled toward Earth on Friday, and NASA admitted it had little idea where the biggest piece of US space junk in 30 years will crash into the planet.

NASA refines satellite crash course, a bit

Sep 22, 2011

NASA on Thursday refined the crash course of a six-ton defunct satellite, saying it is likely to miss North America, though its exact landing spot remains unknown.

NASA says satellite will hit Earth Sept 23 US time

Sep 21, 2011

The US space agency has narrowed down its prediction of when a defunct six-ton satellite will crash back to Earth, saying on Wednesday that it is expected to land on September 23, US time. ...

Recommended for you

Historical comet-landing site is looking for a name

48 minutes ago

The Rosetta mission reaches a defining moment on Wednesday November 12, when its lander, Philae, is released. After about seven hours of descent, Philae will arrive on the surface of Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ...

Image: Siding Spring grazes Mars

1 hour ago

This excellent view of Mars seen together with Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring was captured by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA, on 19 October 2014 on the morning that the enigmatic object made the closest-known ...

China to send orbiter to moon and back

4 hours ago

China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

14 hours ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

19 hours ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

User comments : 9

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Skepticus
Sep 24, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Skepticus
5 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2011
This does not sound good. If the "tumbling motions" prevents NASA and the like to predict precisely where the object will land, any orbital weapons with maneuverability built in will be able to hit anywhere within its design glide envelope!
MorituriMax
5 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2011
"Crash landed", "spacecraft", I really wish this place at least wouldn't refer to this piece of junk as some kind of powered vehicle like other media channels.
hyongx
5 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2011
I'd be pretty happy to have some melted satellite debris land in my yard. talk about a cool souvenier.
El_Nose
not rated yet Sep 24, 2011
@skepticus

well duh.. missle defense systems are for throwing money away
jibbles
not rated yet Sep 25, 2011
the night of its reentry i heard what sounded like a far-off sonic boom. i live in west-central new york state (ithaca).
ROBTHEGOB
not rated yet Sep 25, 2011
NORAD knows where it came down - notice how nobody is talking about NORAD in the media? They track every piece of space debris and satellites down to the size of a quarter; so how is it NASA claims it does not know where it came down? NASA and NORAD don't communicate? Someone at NORAD please comment.
NotAsleep
not rated yet Sep 26, 2011
Robthegob, of course they communicate. They probably did it behind the scenes like they normally do and left NASA as the focal point for media. Unlike politicians, the average federal institutions like to build consensus amongst themselves before making a public statement to minimize the chance of looking stupid
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Sep 26, 2011
I'd be pretty happy to have some melted satellite debris land in my yard. talk about a cool souvenier.

You'd get a pretty quick dose of cosmic radiation, perhaps a taste of cancer. I wouldn't recommend ever taking control of, or handling anything that's been in space for an extended period of time without proper precaution.
Ricochet
not rated yet Sep 26, 2011
I'd be pretty happy to have some melted satellite debris land in my yard. talk about a cool souvenier.

You'd get a pretty quick dose of cosmic radiation, perhaps a taste of cancer. I wouldn't recommend ever taking control of, or handling anything that's been in space for an extended period of time without proper precaution.

You might also get impregnated with an alien species that left their spores on the satellite...