NASA: Doomed satellite won't fall from sky as soon as thought

UARS descent has slowed, NASA says
It appears that the doomed UARS -- the 6-ton, defunct NASA climate satellite expected to fall out of orbit and down to Earth on Friday -- will remain in space a bit longer than scientists originally thought.

Late Wednesday, NASA had predicted that the craft would reenter the atmosphere Friday afternoon, Eastern time. The agency added, to the relief of many on the ground, that the satellite was not expected to be passing over North America at the time of reentry.

But a Friday morning update to the UARS Web page changed the scenario: NASA says that the satellite’s descent has slowed and is expected to fall sometime late Friday or early Saturday. There is an increased, "low" probability that the expected 26 pieces of surviving debris could land in the United States.

The odds that any of the wayward satellite chunks will hit a person remain slim. There's only a one in 3,200 chance that a piece of UARS will hit anyone anywhere on Earth. Your individual chances of getting hit remain around one in 21 trillion.

People who follow falling satellites and other space junk likely weren't surprised by the change in forecast.

"Predicting satellite re-entries is a mug's game," wrote Max White, a satellite tracker in England, in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

"If you get it right, people think it is easy, if you get it wrong, people think you do not know what you are talking about. At this stage, I would not give a specific time and location, until say 2 or three orbits before decay. And then it will have a mind of its own. All decaying objects are like newborns -- they will occur in their own time!"

The Aerospace Corp., a nonprofit that advises the U.S. military on space projects, is providing its own forecast of UARS' descent.

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-- Eryn Brown

Photo: A conceptual image of UARS, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, which launched  Sept. 15, 1991. Credit: NASA

 

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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