NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, fell to earth early this morning. UARS is a six ton decommissioned weather satellite that has been on a collison course to earth for months. The details are sketchy seeing as to how NASA won’t release the exact location.
Before falling “The satellite passed eastward over Canada and Africa as well as vast portions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans .
UARS is the biggest NASA spacecraft to crash back to Earth, uncontrolled, since the post-Apollo 75-ton Skylab space station and the more than 10-ton Pegasus 2 satellite, both in 1979.
Russia’s 135-ton Mir space station slammed through the atmosphere in 2001, but it was a controlled dive into the Pacific.
Before UARS fell, no one had ever been hit by falling space junk and NASA expected that not to change. NASA put the chances that somebody somewhere on Earth would get hurt at 1-in-3,200. But any one person’s odds of being struck were estimated at 1-in-22 trillion, given there are 7 billion people on the planet.
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.
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.”
Orbital debris experts say space junk 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 NASA satellite to fall in three decades.
The surviving chunks of the tour-bus-sized 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.
The US space agency has warned anyone who comes across what they believe may be UARS debris not to touch it but to contact authorities for assistance. It is illegal to keep any part of the fallen satellite, so don’t get any thoughts on putting it on ebay if you find a piece.
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.