Is it true?
Unfortunately, yes. It is true. NASA’s massive dead satellite UARS (The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) is on its way, freefalling towards The Earth.
What is it?
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is an orbital observatory whose mission was to study the Earth’s atmosphere, particularly the protective ozone layer. The 5,900-kilogram satellite was deployed from Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-48 mission in September 1991. UARS entered orbit on 15 September 1991 at an operational altitude of 600 kilometers, with an orbital inclination of 57 degrees.
The original mission duration was to be only three years, but in June 2005, 14 years after the satellite’s launch, six of its ten instruments were still operational. UARS was decommissioned in 2005, and a final orbit-lowering burn was performed, followed by the passivation of the satellite’s systems, in early December 2005. On October 26, 2010, the International Space Station performed a debris-avoidance maneuver in response to a conjunction with UARS.
When will it hit?
The satellite is expected to fall from orbit during the afternoon of September 23, 2011, plus or minus a day, according to NASA.
Where will it hit?
UARS will re-enter the atmosphere somewhere between 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south. That means the nearly 6-ton craft will hit the Earth’s atmosphere anywhere from northern Canada to southern South America.
NASA estimates the debris footprint will be about 500 miles (804 kilometers) long.
What do we do?
The word from NASA is direct: “If you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance.”
For now, let’s buckle up and wait. The Earth is three-fourths oceans and the odds of a harmless splashdown are good!