Safety: September 2011 Archives

Final Update: NASA's UARS Re-enters Earth's Atmosphere

"NASA's decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth at 12 a.m. EDT (0400 GMT), as Friday, Sept. 23, turned to Saturday, Sept. 24 on the United States east coast. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has determined the satellite entered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean at 14.1 degrees south latitude and 189.8 degrees east longitude (170.2 west longitude). This location is over a broad, remote ocean area in the Southern Hemisphere, far from any major land mass. The debris field is located between 300 miles and 800 miles downrange, or generally northeast of the re-entry point. NASA is not aware of any possible debris sightings from this geographic area."

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.

NASA's dead satellite falls, starting over Pacific, AP

"NASA's dead 6-ton satellite plunged to Earth early Saturday, but more than eight hours later, U.S. space officials didn't know just where it hit."

Jonathan's Space Report No. 647 2011 Sep 25

"I would have expected the DSP missile early warning satellites to have detected infrared radiation from the entry - they do keep a close watch on the eastern Pacific in case of a submarine-launched missile attack on the US. It is a bit surprising to me that there's apparently no information from that source - or at least none that's been admitted."

Keith's note: This is just a little too odd. Something this large, with a demise so widely anticipated well in advance, the subject of international coordination among space agencies - and no one knows where it hit? NASA declined to have someone from the DoD (Joint Space Operations Center - JSpOC) on its weekend teleconference - yet NASA's expert, Nick Johnson, repeatedly claimed that the effort to track the satellite's reentry was a "success". When asked (by me) about the used of the term "success" in the media telecon, NASA PAO's Beth Dickey blocked Johnson from answering.

I find it rather unlikely that DoD/Intelligence "assets" in orbit and on the ground were unable to track and pinpoint the demise of UARS. Videos taken from locations that were along the UARS' final ground track have appeared on YouTube but NASA says nothing about them. 36 60 hours after the reentry of UARS and neither NASA or JSpOC have still said anything more definitive about its impact site or the veracity of videos and other sightings. The FAA issued a NOTAM for the UARS re-entry that asks pilots to report anything they might see with regard to UARS. The FAA has not responded as to whether any reports were received.

There is more to this story than NASA is willing/able to discuss.

UARS Reentry Update

Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite Reentry Update #6 Wed, 21 Sep 2011 08:03:34 AM EDT

"As of Sept. 21, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 120 mi by 130 mi (195 km by 210 km). Re-entry is expected Sept. 23, United States time. The time reference does not mean that the satellite is expected to re-enter over the United States. It is simply a time reference. Although it is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry, predictions of the time period are becoming more refined."

Russian Federation unwilling to allow Space X demonstration, Examiner.com

"Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian segment of the ISS mission control center made a statement on Friday that Space X will not be granted docking permission to dock its Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station (ISS) during a planned test flight on or around November 30, 2011."

@NASA: "Sorry, despite @ria_novosti reports, a decision has yet to be made regarding the upcoming @SpaceXer test flight to ISS. Incorrect story."

Keith's note: I suspect that this is yet another case of bad translation from Russian to English and/orRussian bluffing and/or a negotiating tactic for more money. They have done this before.

Space Satellite UARS Adrift and Heading for Earth, ABC

"A nearly 6-ton satellite is heading toward Earth and could crash into the planet as early as Sept. 23, NASA officials said."

Keep Sept. 23 open: A satellite is heading our way, CBS

"NASA has been watching the 6-ton satellite closely. On Friday officials moved up their prediction for its arrival to Sept. 23, give or take a day. Scientists have calculated that the satellite, named the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, will break into 26 pieces as it gets closer to Earth. The agency will offer the public more detailed information early next week."

NASA Studying Shuttle Retrieval of Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) (2001)

"EVA Project Office personnel supported a concept review for the possible Space Shuttle retrieval of the UARS on May 3, 2001. At this point, several different options are still under consideration. The mission would require at least one scheduled EVA to secure various deployable components on the spacecraft. UARS was originally designed to be compatible with EVA operations, so most of the tasks appear to be feasible. An EVA splinter meeting is scheduled for May 10, 2001, to further discuss the EVA requirements for this proposed mission."

NASA Needs Strategic Plan to Manage Orbital Debris Efforts; Risks Increasing for Satellites, Space Station, National Research Council

"Although NASA's meteoroid and orbital debris programs have responsibly used their resources, the agency's management structure has not kept pace with increasing hazards posed by abandoned equipment, spent rocket bodies, and other debris orbiting the Earth, says a new report by the National Research Council. NASA should develop a formal strategic plan to better allocate resources devoted to the management of orbital debris. In addition, removal of debris from the space environment or other actions to mitigate risks may be necessary."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Safety category from September 2011.

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