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Earth to satellite: When will you hit _ and where?
Question of the Day
The $740 million UARS was decommissioned in 2005, after NASA lowered its orbit with the little remaining fuel on board. NASA didn’t want to keep it up longer than necessary, for fear of a collision or an exploding fuel tank, either of which would have left a lot of space litter.
Experts expect to have a good idea by Thursday of when and where UARS might fall, Matney says. They won’t be able to pinpoint the exact time, but they should be able to narrow it to a few hours.
Given the spacecraft’s orbital speed of 17,500 mph, or 5 miles per second, a prediction that is off by just a few minutes could mean a 1,000-mile error. It probably won’t be clear where it fell until afterward, Matney says.
If it happens in darkness, it should be visible.
“If someone is lucky enough to be near the re-entry at nighttime, they’ll get quite a show,” says Matney, who works at Johnson Space Center in Houston, also in the potential strike zone.
Space junk in general is on the rise, much of it destroyed or broken satellites and chunks of used rockets. More than 20,000 manmade objects at least 4 inches in diameter are being tracked in orbit.
It’s mostly a threat to astronauts in space, rather than people on Earth. In June, the six residents of the International Space Station took shelter in their docked Soyuz lifeboats because of passing debris. The unidentified object came within 1,100 feet of the complex, the closest call yet.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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