Crashing UARS Satellite Possibly Headed for the United States

Posted on September 23, 2011

NASA UARS Satellite

Update 9-24-11: NASA says its satellite "penetrated the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. The precise re-entry time and location are not yet known with certainty."

NASA is now predicting that its falling 6.5-ton UARS satellite will crash to Earth somewhere in the United States late Friday, Sept 23 or early Saturday 24. NASA expects the satellite to break apart on re-entry. NASA says there is low probability any debris survives re-entry, but NASA also says the possibility cannot be discounted. Space.com reports that NASA is estimating the largest piece of debris would weigh about 300 pounds.

NASA says there has never been any injuries or property damage from a satellite crashing to Earth.

Since the beginning of the Space Age in the late-1950s, there have been no confirmed reports of an injury resulting from re-entering space objects. Nor is there a record of significant property damage resulting from a satellite re-entry.
NASA estimates the debris footprint will be about 500 miles long. They are warning people not to do touch any of the debris. NASA says, "If you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance."

Another article from Space.com also says NASA owns the satellite so you cannot take a piece and sell it on eBay. Nick Johnson, chief scientist of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, says, "Because this is a U.S. government satellite, any object that does reach the surface of the Earth, should it be found, is still the property of the United States. You do not have the luxury of trying to sell it on eBay."

NASA is providing updates on the crashing UARS satellite here.

Here are the three most recent updates.

Update #10
Fri, 23 Sep 2011 09:45:08 AM CDT

As of 10:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 23, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 100 miles by 105 miles (160 km by 170 km). Re-entry is expected late Friday, Sept. 23, or early Saturday, Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time. Solar activity is no longer the major factor in the satellite's rate of descent. The satellite's orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent. 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. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 12 to 18 hours.

Update #9 Fri, 23 Sep 2011 02:01:35 GMT

As of 9:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 22, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 110 mi by 115 mi (175 km by 185 km). Re-entry is possible sometime during the afternoon or early evening of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time. The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 hours.

Update #8
Thu, 22 Sep 2011 11:44:51 GMT

As of 7 a.m. EDT Sept. 22, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 115 mi by 120 mi (185 km by 195 km). Re-entry is expected sometime during the afternoon of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time. The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 to 36 hours.

Photo: NASA