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.
The satellite was launched in 1991 by the Space Shuttle Discovery. It is 35 feet long, 15 feet in diameter, weighs 13,000 pounds, and carries 10 instruments. UARS orbits at an altitude of 375 miles with an orbital inclination of 57 degrees. Designed to operate for three years, six of its ten instruments are still functioning.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the satellite, which has a 1-in-3,200 chance of injuring or killing a person on landing, won’t hit North America. It said it was too early to “predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty,” in a release today.
NASA expects 26 “potentially hazardous” objects from the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite to survive, with a total weight of 532 kilograms (1,172 pounds), spread over an area 500 miles long (804 kilometers). The rest will be destroyed as the satellite passes through the atmosphere.
The risk of injury is “vanishingly small,” said Steve Cole, a spokesman for NASA.
“The great majority burns up and never poses any harm,” he said in a telephone interview from Washington. The odds of it hitting any individual are “one in several trillion.”
Space objects of about 4 metric tons fall to Earth about once a year, said Cole. There have never been confirmed reports of serious injury.
NASA estimates that the satellite's path is on collision course with our very own wackbag server. After impact, valuable information concerning the real post counts will be forever lost, leaving the bag in 909 limbo until the Sun mercifully explodes and ends our misery.
1997: Lottie Williams is strolling through a park in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when she sees a flash of light resembling a meteor. A short while later, she is struck on the shoulder by a piece of metal apparently from a disintegrating rocket, making her the only person believed to have been hit by a piece of space debris.
Although the fragment, which measured about 6 inches long, was never positively identified as having come from a rocket, NASA confirmed that the timing and location of the incident were consistent with the re-entry and breakup of a second-stage Delta rocket that fell to Earth after orbiting for several months. The main wreckage was recovered a couple of hundred miles away in Texas.
Williams was not injured. She was struck a glancing blow, and the debris was relatively light and probably traveling at a low velocity. It was also subject to wind currents, which mitigated the impact even further.
As of 7 p.m. EDT on Sept. 23, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 90 miles by 95 miles (145 km by 150 km). Re-entry is expected between 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, and 3 a.m., Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time (3 a.m. to 7 a.m. GMT). During that time period, the satellite will be passing over Canada, Africa and Australia, as well as vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The risk to public safety is very remote.