UARS: When and Where Did It Go Down?

by VirtualAstro on September 24, 2011

UARS final ground track Credit: NASA


After a night of changing predictions and hopes of many to see a fireball in the sky, the UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) finally met it’s fiery demise.

The decommissioned, 6.5 ton satellite is believed to have re-entered the Earths atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, and in it’s death throes the massive satellite broke up, and the surviving debris likely landed in the ocean, off of the West coast of North America.

In regard to the exact re-entry point and position of the debris field, Nicholas Johnson, chief orbital debris scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said “We don’t know where the debris field might be… We may never know.”

The US Department of Defense’s Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and the U.S. Strategic Command radar tracking assessed that the satellite reentered the atmosphere sometime between 0323 and 0509 GMT on September 24, 2011 (the Strategic Command predicted it would re-enter at 04:16 GMT). During this period, the satellite was heading across the Pacific Ocean on a southwest-to-northeast trajectory approaching Canada’s west coast. The mid-point of that groundtrack and a possible reentry location is 31 N latitude and 219 E longitude (green circle marker on the above map).

“If the re-entry point was at the time of 04:16 GMT, then all that debris wound up in the Pacific Ocean,” Johnson said during a media briefing on Saturday. “If the re-entry point occurred earlier than that, practically the entire pass before 04:16 was over water. So the only way debris could have probably reached land would be if the re-entry occurred after 04:16.”

NASA says there are no reports of damage or injury caused by the surviving components that made it to the surface, and there are so far no credible visual reports of anyone seeing the UARS satellite burning up.

The Earth-observing satellite was in orbit for 20 years and 10 days.

Credit: NASA

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