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Satellite Falling: Odds Of Getting Hit Better Than Lightening Strike

September 12, 2011 by  

Satellite Falling: Odds Of Getting Hit Better Than Lightening Strike

A falling NASA satellite has a chance of about 1/3,200 of hitting a person between Alaska and South America over the next month.

NASA said the 35 foot long, 15 foot wide Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere sometime in late September or early October. The 6 1/2 ton satellite will fall over a 500-mile stretch of land someplace between northern Canada and southern South America. Officials say that they will not know for sure where the satellite will land until about two hours before it strikes Earth’s surface, even then, officials say there will be a 6,000 mile margin for error.

“The risk to public safety or property is extremely small, and safety is NASA’s top priority. Since the beginning of the Space Age in the late-1950s, there have been no confirmed reports of an injury resulting from re-entering space objects. Nor is there a record of significant property damage resulting from a satellite re-entry,” NASA said in a press release.

According to a NASA risk assessment, on average, a spacecraft as large as UARS falls back to Earth about once a year. In 2010, a total of 400 pieces of satellites or spent rockets fell to Earth. Most pieces either burned up during re-entry, fell into the ocean or fell over unpopulated areas. UARS is expected to behave similarly as it plummets; though, researchers say, about 1,170 pounds of material from the satellite is expected to reach Earth, the largest of which could weigh nearly 300 pounds. About 26 large objects are expected to survive the fall.

NASA launched the $750 million UARS satellite in 1991 aboard the space shuttle Discovery on a mission to study Earth’s upper atmosphere. It was decommissioned in 2005 and ran out of fuel, beginning its deviation from orbit.

NASA will provide updates weekly until four days before re-entry, then daily until about 24 hours before re-entry, and then at about 12 hours, six hours and two hours before re-entry. The updates will come from the Joint Space Operations Center of U.S. Strategic Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., which works around the clock detecting, identifying and tracking all man-made objects in Earth orbit, including space junk, according to the space agency.




Sam Rolley

Staff writer Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After learning about many of the biases present in most modern newsrooms, Rolley became determined to find a position in journalism that would allow him to combat the unsavory image that the news industry has gained. He is dedicated to seeking the truth and exposing the lies disseminated by the mainstream media at the behest of their corporate masters, special interest groups and information gatekeepers.

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  • eddie47d

    Falling space junk is the price of progress. What goes up must come down. Since most of the world is oceans we are fairly lucky and we do love our communication networks. Should NASA allow them to come down naturally or be prepared to shoot them down during reentry? That shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.

  • 45caliber

    I don’t worry about lightning strikes so I’m not going to worry about this either.

  • Andrea B

    Todays weather forecast in St Louis: Cloudy, with a chance of shuttle.

  • independant thinker

    I think I will paint a target on an unused out building I could use the insurance money.

  • iam

    “…there have been no confirmed reports of an injury resulting from re-entering space objects.”

    That statement is totally useless. It cannot guarantee safety in the future. There is never a confirmed report until after the injury happens. Anyone who would feel safe merely because some fool issued that statement is wearing blinders.

    Yes, it is unlikely that anyone will be hurt, but not because it hasn’t happened in the past. It’s a matter of the orbit, the ground track it covers, and the population density along that ground track. The past has nothing to do with it.

  • jopa

    iam;Just for your own piece of mind why don’t you just wear a hard hat and a safety pin?Why live in fear?

  • Cept

    This,again ,should show the American people how wasteful our space program has been.Instead of listening to people like Doctor Von Braun,The goverment decided to let Big Bussniess DO its thing.I know all of the junk up thier arn’t ours(but a lot of it is.)Without a long range plan put in place,this is what happens.Just think what kind os space station we could have if we could collect all the (U.S.)junk up there.(I wonder what the cost was ?) Rember this started all the way back on Oct4,1957 withSputnik #1.Rember the so callesd ‘Space Race” with russia? It reminds me of an old saying “haste makes waste!!!”which is Somthing that our goverment is good at doing.

  • Plan 9

    Alot of big busnises made a lot of money.Hell, we should have had a base on the moon by now,instead we wasted all that money on launching too maany damn satellites.

  • Bill Wright

    I just wonder if we wwere really intrested in the con quest of space ,or we were just intrested in kicking some russian ass?

  • Cep

    We shouldn’t have worry about such nonsense.

  • Dan az

    When they say non inhabited areas There talking about where I live.Gee thanks.Now hows going to clean up the mess?Just last night a piece of space junk shot across my house and who know where it landed but pieces of it were falling off all over the place.When vanderburg test rockets they shoot them at us out here then blow them up right over us.Cool looking but hey I’m walking here,knock it off!

  • Ed Katz

    How to misinterpret statistics. The odds are 1 in 3200 that the satellite will hit a person on the Earth. What are the odds that someone will be struck by lightning on the Earth? 100%.


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