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NASA Says UARS Satellite May Hit North America

September 23, 2011 by  

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (UPI) — NASA says a falling satellite is slowing its approach to the upper atmosphere and should plunge back toward Earth late Friday or early Saturday.

Reversing itself on earlier estimates that the satellite would not be passing over North America during its re-entry, NASA now says “there is a low probability that any debris that survives will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted,” Florida Today reported.

Exactly where the decommissioned 6.5-ton, bus-size Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite would land was not clear early Friday, NASA said.

But 26 large pieces — the heaviest weighing about 350 pounds — were expected to survive the fiery re-entry and hit Earth’s surface, the agency said.

The largest pieces could possibly hit the surface at 98 mph. Smaller pieces were expected to strike the surface at up to 240 mph.

The chances of getting hit are 1 in 3,200, NASA said.

The debris — made of stainless steel, titanium and beryllium, and including batteries, wheel rims and empty fuel tanks — will stretch along a 500-mile path, NASA said.

There will be no hazardous chemicals, although the pieces might have sharp edges, the space agency said.

The satellite — an orbital observatory launched from the space shuttle Discovery in September 1991 to study Earth’s atmosphere, particularly the protective ozone layer — was decommissioned in 2005 and placed into a lower orbit so it wouldn’t cause any problems for the International Space Station.

NASA’s Skylab space station — about the size of a house — fell to Earth near Perth, Western Australia, July 11, 1979. No one was injured, but local authorities fined NASA $400 for littering.

NASA never paid the fine, but a California radio show host raised the money from his morning show listeners in April 2009 and paid the fine on NASA’s behalf.

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