Falling satellite could land in Australia?

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The six-tonne Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) that is heading for Earth is likely to crash down in the Pacific region early on Saturday, scientists said yesterday.

As per the prediction by Aerospace Corporation in California, there are increased chances of the spacecraft landing in Australia. However, NASA is expecting a splashdown in the ocean rather than a hard landing.

The 20-year-old Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is likely to break into 100 pieces, many of which will burn on re-entry. But scientists said 26 pieces, some weighing up to 135kg, are expected to survive. The debris could be scattered over an area of about 800 KM.

Scientists have calculated the chances of it hitting a person as 1 in 3200. It would be the first time in history someone was injured by space debris.

The UARS, used to measure ozone levels, wind speeds and temperatures in the stratosphere, ran out of fuel in 2005 and has been gradually picking up speed as it falls to Earth.

It is being tracked by the joint space operations centre of US Strategic Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but NASA admits it has no idea exactly where it will come down or when. The space agency said the crash site will be anywhere between 57 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south latitude.

The precise location of where the satellite will hit should become clearer today.

A NASA spokesman said, “It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty. 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.”

NASA is urging anyone who finds a piece of the UARS satellite not to touch it.