Friday, September 23, 2011

NASA: Falling Satellite Still A Hazard To U.S.

NASA's falling satellite is slowing its approach to the upper reaches of the atmosphere and the spacecraft now is expected to make its destructive plunge back toward Earth late tonight or early Saturday.

NASA also back-tracked on previous reports that the satellite would not be passing over North America during its reentry. In its latest update, NASA said "there is a low probability that any debris that survives will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted."

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is skimming along in an orbit with high and low points of 105 miles and 100 miles, respectively. Solar activity no longer is influencing the satellite's rate of descent, and the spacecraft's orientation apparently has changed. Those two factors are slowing its fall.

NASA said it's still too early to say exactly when the 6.5-ton satellite will reenter the atmosphere, or where any surviving debris might fall. Air Force space surveillance trackers will be refining predictions over the next 12 to 18 hours.

NASA experts expect 26 parts of the spacecraft to survive reentry and fall back to Earth. Total weight of the parts: about 1,200 pounds.

NASA says the odds of any single person being struck by debris are 1 in 3,200.

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