Science

NASA and the U.S. Air Force have figured out where UARS crash landed, they think

NASA/JPL image of UARS
NASA/JPL image of UARS
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NASA, working with the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, believe they have figured out where the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, UARS, crash landed on Saturday morning.

NASA/JPL image of UARS
NASA/JPL image of UARS

According to their data UARS made re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere over American Samoa (Red pin). The satellite penetrated the atmosphere heading north towards the US mainland. NASA says that debris from the satellite would have hit the Pacific Ocean between 300 miles (Green pin on the map) and 800 miles (Blue pin on the map) North East of the islands.


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The space agency estimates that 26 pieces of UARS, totalling 544kg (1,200 lb) could have survived re-entry and made splashdown, but as the re-entry location was “over a broad, remote ocean are in the Southern Hemisphere, far from any major land mass [sic]” it is unlikely to find any debris.

NASA map of UARS re-entry
NASA map showing the ground track for UARS beginning in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa at 0330 GMT and ending at atmospheric interface over the Pacific Ocean at 0400 GMT.

As this was an uncontroled re-entry NASA had some difficult predicting the satellite’s path. NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston said, “This was not an easy re-entry to predict because of the natural forces acting on the satellite as its orbit decayed. Space-faring nations around the world also were monitoring the satellite’s descent in the last two hours and all the predictions were well within the range estimated by JSpOC (Joint Space Operations Center ).”

This updated data from JSpOC and NSAS significantly alters NSAS’s earliest assessment of UARS’s re-entry, which placed the satellite over Northern Canada. NASA, as well as other organisations were tracking UARS’s re-entry over the weekend although the space agency was keen to point out that there was little danger to human life.

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Piers Dillon Scott
Piers Dillon-Scott is co-editor of The Sociable and writes about stuff he finds. He likes technology, media, and using the Oxford comma (because it just makes sense).