NASA Satellite Debris Should Miss North America

Debris from an old out-of-control U.S. satellite is expected to fall somewhere on Earth on Friday afternoon, NASA said, although the debris is expected to miss North America.

NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on Friday afternoon, almost six years after the end of its productive scientific life. Although the spacecraft will break into pieces during re-entry, not all of it will burn up in the atmosphere.

NASA said the risk to public safety or property is extremely small, but there is nonetheless a small chance debris could impact a populated area. However, 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.

As of early Thursday morning, the orbit of UARS was about 115 miles by 120 miles (185 kilometers by 195 kilometers). Re-entry is expected sometime during Friday afternoon. “The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period,” NASA said. “It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 to 36 hours.”

NASA said the satellite’s orbit is inclined 57 degrees to the equator, which means surviving components of UARS will land between 57 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south latitude. “It is impossible to pinpoint just where in that zone the debris will land, but NASA estimates the debris footprint will be about 500 miles (804 kilometers) long,” the agency said.

Since more than 71 percent of the Earth is covered by water, there is only a small chance the debris will impact land. Nonetheless, NASA urges people who may find UARS debris to not touch it and alert emergency services.

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