NASA’s given its final verdict on the last resting place of the UARS satellite, which fell back to Earth last Friday.
The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California says it entered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean at 14.1 degrees south latitude and 189.8 degrees east longitude – a broad, remote ocean area in the southern hemisphere, far from any major land mass.
The debris field should be located between 300 miles and 800 miles northeast of this point, but no possible debris has been sighted.
The satellite broke into pieces during re-entry. While most of it burned up in the atmosphere, some 26 components, weighing a total of about 1,200 pounds, could have survived to reach the Earth’s surface.
But variables such as the spacecraft’s precise orientation at the moment of breakup and even the solar weather meant that the precise location was hard to predict.
“This was not an easy re-entry to predict because of the natural forces acting on the satellite as its orbit decayed,” says said Nick Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris.
“Space-faring nations around the world also were monitoring the satellite’s descent in the last two hours and all the predictions were well within the range estimated by JSpOC.”
UARS was launched a little over ten years ago, aboard space shuttle mission STS-48, to study various chemical components of the atmosphere. It ceased its scientific life in 2005.