Does NASA Have A Contingency Plan For Crashing Satellites?

What Would NASA Do If A Soyuz Landed In America? (2003 - with NASA contingency plans), SpaceRef

"As was the case with a Shuttle accident, NASA (in cooperation with Russia) has developed plans for what to do in case of a contingency Soyuz landing in North America. Although the entire, final plan has not been made public, we can provide, for the first time, portions of the plan under development a year or so ago."

Keith's note: Although NASA has yet to get any more detailed impact data from the DoD, odds are that most if not all of the UARS that made it to the surface of Earth landed in the Pacific Ocean. But it could have also hit land. While the statistics are on the side of no one getting hurt (or close to being hurt), the risk is not Zero. Skylab's impact taught us that. What would have happened if large pieces of UARS smashed into a populated area? NASA would have had little warning perhaps a few hours at most.

Does NASA have a quick reaction team in place to deal with events such as this? The answer no - not for crashing satellites. There are several partial exceptions: the contingency plan in place (and activated) during the loss of Columbia and also, as is seen in this article I wrote in 2003, in case a Soyuz lands in North America. While these documents were in draft form a decade ago, they do show that someone was thinking of how to mobilize a lot of people fast and what they needed to be thinking about. But clearly these lessons learned have not been shared across the agency.

Oh yes, the 2,400 kg ROSAT satellite, launched by the U.S. for Germany in 1990 is going to be making an uncontrolled reentry in the next month or two. Pieces are likely to survive reentry and reach the Earth's surface. ROSAT's orbital inclination is 53 degrees. UARS orbited at 57 degrees. So, a similar swath of the Earth's surface will be exposed to the non-zero possibility of being hit.

According to "Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space" The U.S. as the "launching authority" bears at lest some responsibility for any damage ROSAT's reentry may cause. Maybe its time that NASA gets its act together and comes up with a plan. Space junk re-enters every day. Sooner or later someone is going to have a bad day.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on September 26, 2011 5:53 PM.

UARS Update: NASA Still Doesn't Know Where it Landed was the previous entry in this blog.

NASA Study: Why SpaceX Can Build A Rocket Cheaper Than NASA is the next entry in this blog.

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