Oh Sit Down

Pacific Ocean recipient of a free NASA satellite

In Miscellaneous, News, Tech on September 26, 2011 at 13:13

With mystery surrounding as to where exactly debris from a six-tonne decommissioned NASA satellite fell early on Saturday – the biggest crash of a NASA satellite since 1979 – NASA remains adamant the satellite’s debris fell in the Pacific Ocean, over an 804-kilometre stretch. The crash comes as planet Earth gears up for more solar storm activity today.

The 5,897kg Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) was originally sent into orbit aboard a space shuttle mission (STS-48) on 15 September 1991. Its aim was to study ozone and other chemicals in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“It was the first multi-instrumented satellite to observe numerous chemical components of the atmosphere for better understanding of photochemistry. UARS data marked the beginning of many long-term records for key chemicals in the atmosphere. The satellite also provided key data on the amount of light that comes from the sun at ultraviolet and visible wavelengths,” said NASA.

In 2005, UARS completed its mission. Since then, it had been gradually losing altitude.

“NASA’s decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. Sept. 24, 20 years and nine days after its launch on a 14-year mission that produced some of the first long-term records of chemicals in the atmosphere,” said NASA in a statement on Saturday.

NASA said the precise re-entry time and location of debris impacts have not been determined.

“During the re-entry period, the satellite passed from the east coast of Africa over the Indian Ocean, then the Pacific Ocean, then across northern Canada, then across the northern Atlantic Ocean, to a point over West Africa. The vast majority of the orbital transit was over water, with some flight over northern Canada and West Africa.”

NASA claimed that, six years after the end of its scientific life, UARS broke into pieces during re-entry, with most of it burning up in the atmosphere.

“Data indicates the satellite likely broke apart and landed in the Pacific Ocean far off the U.S. coast. Twenty-six satellite components, weighing a total of about 1,200 pounds, could have survived the fiery re-entry and reach the surface of Earth. However, NASA is not aware of any reports of injury or property damage.”

Via teleconference on Saturday, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris, Nick Johnson, informed journalists that the satellite’s trajectory finished after it crossed over parts of the Indian Ocean and Africa.

He said that the 13,000-pound UARS most likely either disintegrated or spread debris over an 804-kilometre Pacific Ocean expanse.

There had been earlier rumours circulating via social media that debris from the satellite had reached part of Calgary in Canada. However, NASA said these reports were unfounded, with data indicating that the 35-foot satellite most likely fell into the Pacific Ocean, away from human civilisation.

“We can now confirm that #UARS is down!” said the official NASA Twitter account on early Saturday morning.

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