Nasa searches for satellite debris

2011-09-24 19:02

Washington - Nasa officials scrambled on Saturday to locate any remains of a bus-sized satellite - the biggest piece of US space junk to plummet to earth in 30 years - that disintegrated upon on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

Nasa has said there is only a "very remote" risk to the public from any of the fragments of the 6.3-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) that may have survived the journey back into the atmosphere.

The satellite fell back to Earth between 23:23 on Friday and 01:09 on Saturday (03:23-05:09 GMT on Saturday), but the precise re-entry time and location "are not yet known with certainty", Nasa said.

The tumbling motion of the satellite has made it difficult to narrow down where it landed, with the ocean considered likely and the exact number of pieces of debris it broke into is still unknown.

The Joint Space Operations Centre at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California said the satellite penetrated the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, but the landing site was still not confirmed.

The 26 satellite fragments that Nasa earlier said may survive re-entry could weigh anything up to 1 158kg. Nasa said the debris field could span 800km.

Canada, Africa and Australia had all been named as possible sites for touchdown of satellite debris.

On its Twitter feed, Nasa said, "We're standing by for UARS location updates from the US Joint Space Operations Centre. No reports of any damage or injury."

  • JasunX - 2011-09-24 20:27

    The satellite was found in Soweto, shortly after crash-landing on the head of a witch doctor. It was stripped and sold on the black market as scrap.

  • Juzt Mythoughtz - 2011-09-24 20:33

    Dammit, I see South Africa has signed the bloody Outer Space Treaty too - so no finders keepers for us.. I'm sure 150 kilos of Titanium and 5 kilos of Beryllium would have fetched a nice price down by Solly's scrapyard

  • Hetrohero - 2011-09-25 03:19

    Yeah I am here in Los Angeles near the Los Angeles Int Airport and can report that I saw a whole squadron of millitary helicopters take off and fly off somewhere. They all had twin rotars and looked like they could be used for searches. It looked pretty serious. That was yesterday.

      Hetrohero - 2011-09-25 03:24

      Think they are called Chinooks.

      IceMan - 2011-09-25 12:41

      because the yanks are idiots .. they took off looking for elvis

      Hetrohero - 2011-09-25 13:00

      Yanks are not idiots. You are an idiot. That is why they drop bombs on your dumb a**.

      Dmitri - 2011-09-25 13:48

      The bloody thing landed on the White house and brought along obama. Problem solved. Sat found and proof of aliens

  • steve - 2011-09-25 10:24

    How is it possible that they couldn't keep track of the thing and where it is going, or even when it entered the atmosphere? (smoke and mirrors?) Can anyone explain this? But I mean someone who actually knows this stuff, not every other wiseguy on this site

      Hetrohero - 2011-09-25 11:10

      I can tell you where you will get a really good answer. Dr Bill Wattenburg is a radio talk show host at KGO in San Francisco. He was involved in the first moon landings and was a NASA scientist. He is on the air 1am - 5am every weekday, Pacific Standard time. His email address you can find here:

      Zion - 2011-09-25 11:15

      I may not be the wise guy you are looking for but my opinion is available free. take it or leave it. The piece if the satellite is as big as a bus and weighs 6 tons. In space where there is no atmosphere it will fall to earth in a straight or curved line. When it hits the atmosphere high up it will start to tumble and the path it is on becomes erratic and therefore it as a whole will deviate and not follow a straight or curved line. At a point it will start breaking up into smaller pieces and each piece will describe its own erratic path to earth. One cannot know where any given piece will land but one can calculate the general landing area of all the pieces.

      IceMan - 2011-09-25 12:44

      wow Zion ... u a genius ;)

      Hetrohero - 2011-09-25 13:13

      Actually Zion is not such a genius. Due to the satellite's weight and velocity and angle at which it will hit the upper atmosphere, it would continue in a very straight path while most of it burns up. Even the smaller pieces would continue in a straight line and probably stick really close to the main body.

      Hetrohero - 2011-09-25 13:18

      All you have to do is watch this video footage online of the shuttle Columbia that broke up right after entry:

      Juzt Mythoughtz - 2011-09-25 15:44

      @steve My two cents worth is that they couldn't calculate the position with much certainty ahead of time as they had an unknown variable - air friction, i.e. the density of the upper atmosphere (which changes constantly, mainly due to sun activity). As Zion said, the tumbling gets erratic too (don't think anyone paid much attention to the satellite's aerodynamic profile when they designed it). One also has to consider that the estimated speed of the complete satellite while orbiting was around 7000 m/sec (28000km/h), I don't know how long the various components took to crash but even a small speed difference between them (bigger pieces = more friction) can mean quite a distance between their impact sites

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