(Reuters) – A defunct NASA science satellite dispatched by a space shuttle crew in 1991 will come crashing back to Earth this month, with debris most likely landing in an ocean or unpopulated region, officials said Friday.
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, was turned off in 2005, becoming another piece of space junk loitering in Earth orbit. The 6.5-ton spacecraft is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere later this month, although exactly when and where is unknown.
Most of UARS will burn up in the atmosphere, but up to 26 individual pieces, with a combined mass of about 1,100 pounds (500 kg), will survive the fall, said Nicholas Johnson, chief scientist of NASA’s Orbital Debris Program office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The largest chunk, part of the spacecraft’s structure, is expected to be about 331 pounds (150 kg), he added.
The debris most likely will land in an ocean or in an uninhabited region of Earth.
The satellite’s orbit takes it over most of the planet, from as far north as northern Canada to the southern part of South America.
“It’s highly unlikely it’s going to strike a populated area, just from a statistical standpoint,” Johnson said.
“Throughout the entire 54 years of the space age, there’s been no report of anybody in the world being injured or severely impacted by any re-entering debris,” he said.
The chance that even one person will be struck by a piece of UARS debris is one in 3,200, NASA says.
But not impossible. There’s no reason why a chunk of satellite shouldn’t, in a bizarre twist of irony, hit polemicist James Delingpole. Such a piece of debris might hit him straight on killing him or possibly just wing him and reduce his output from a gush of divisive drivel to simply a dribble. There’s no way of knowing. Even with this relatively simple piece of dynamics there are too many variables to take into account. Key variables in this case will be the location of James Delingpole and the location where the satellite actually crashes to earth. Both are unknown at this time.
NASA has given no precise information on whether or not the satellite debris will or will not hit James Delingpole.
Mr Delingpole was not approached for comment.