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NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere in late September or early October 2011, almost six years after the end of a productive scientific life. Although the spacecraft will break into pieces during re-entry, not all of it will burn up in the atmosphere.
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.
It is too early to say exactly when UARS will re-enter and what geographic area may be affected, but NASA is watching the satellite closely and will keep you informed. Visit this page for updates on the satellite’s orbital track and predicted re-entry date.
NASA will post updates weekly until four days before the anticipated 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.
The actual date of re-entry is difficult to predict because it depends on solar flux and the spacecraft’s orientation as its orbit decays. As re-entry draws closer, predictions on the date will become more reliable.
As of Sept. 8, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 152 miles by 171 miles (245 km by 275 km) with an inclination of 57 degrees. Because the satellite’s orbit is inclined 57 degrees to the equator, any surviving components of UARS will land within a zone between 57 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south latitude. It is impossible to pinpoint just where in that zone the debris will land, but NASA estimates the debris footprint will be about 500 miles long.
If you find something you think may be a piece of UARS, do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance.