Falling satellite could scatter debris

Sept. 10, 2011 at 2:45 PM
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HOUSTON, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- A decommissioned NASA satellite will re-enter Earth's atmosphere within the next few weeks and may scatter debris across a 500-mile stretch of land.

NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, decommissioned in 2005 after a 14-year space mission, is expected to fall somewhere between Canada and southern South America, the International Business Times reported.

"The risk to public safety or property is extremely small," NASA said on its Web site. "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 said the exact date of the satellite's re-entry is difficult to predict.

"It is too early to say exactly when UARS will re-enter and what geographic area may be affected, but NASA is watching the satellite closely and will keep you informed."

The chances of someone somewhere on Earth being hit by falling debris are 1-in-3,200, Space.com reported.

"So those are actually very, very low odds that anyone is going to be struck by a piece of debris," said Nick Johnson, the chief scientist of NASA's Orbital Debris Program.

Johnson said 26 pieces of the satellite are expected to survive re-entry and hit Earth's surface. The largest piece of debris could weigh as much as 300 pounds.

A spacecraft as large as UARS, which is 35 feet long and 15 feet wide, falls back to Earth about once a year, Johnson said.

"Satellites re-entering is actually very commonplace," Johnson said.

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