September 24, 2011

Watch Out For Satellite Junk! No Joke!

If you're reading this story somewhere in North America and wondering where NASA's aging UARS satellite will crash to Earth, the space agency says you can rest easy.

"Re-entry is expected sometime during the afternoon of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time," said NASA in an update this morning. "The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period."

The Aerospace Corporation, a private firm that is tracking UARS, offered a more specific prediction, saying the satellite would likely come down off the coast of Chile at 6:06 p.m. EST. But William Ailor, who heads the company's center for orbital and re-entry debris studies, said the time and location would almost undoubtedly change as Friday afternoon approaches.

NASA repeated that the risk to people or property is "extremely small."

As of this morning, UARS had an altitude of about 115 miles, skimming the uppermost reaches of the atmosphere at more than 17,000 mph. At some point, a little like a stone skipping over a pond, it will encounter enough resistance that it will no longer be able to keep moving at orbital speeds.