RIP UARS Satellite


Categories: Geotools GPS


The 5867-kilogram UARS satellite plummitted to earth today somewhere over Canada:

There were reports on Twitter of debris falling over Okotoks, a town south of Calgary in western Canada, most likely the remains of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, which had been in orbit for 20 years.

Scientists were unable to pinpoint the exact time and place where UARS would return to Earth due to the satellite’s unpredictable tumbles as it plowed through the upper atmosphere. Re-entry was believed to have occurred between 3.45 and 4.45pm (today, NZ time).

Stretching 10.6 metres long and 4.5 metres in diameter, UARS was among the largest spacecraft to plummet uncontrollably through the atmosphere, although it is a slim cousin to Nasa’s 75-tonnes skylab station, which crashed to Earth in 1979.

These are not small pieces of machinery falling to Earth. The average car is only 1000-1500kg and I certainly wouldn’t one of those falling¬†on me from the atmosphere.

Nasa now plans for the controlled re-entry of large spacecraft, but it did not when UARS was designed.


Most of the spacecraft burned up during the fiery plunge through the atmosphere, but about 26 individual pieces, weighing a total of about 500kg could have survived the incineration and landed somewhere on Earth.

The debris field spans about 805km, but exactly where it is located depends on when UARS descended.

So, there are 26 potentially interesting cache sites out there.

There are also two interesting YouTube videos worth seeing. The first is a neat animation showing the breakup of the satellite during re-entry. The second is footage of the satellite shot by an amateur astronomer nine days before the satellite re-entered.



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