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Falling Satellite Unlikely to Pose Threat to Human Life

by Medindia Content Team on  January 29, 2008 at 11:58 AM General Health News   - G J E 4
Falling Satellite Unlikely to Pose Threat to Human Life
A report in New Scientist has said that a spy satellite which is falling back to Earth after its power systems failed, poses little threat to human life.
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According to the report, the satellite should break up during re-entry, leaving tea-tray-sized chunks of debris to crash land sometime in late February or early March.

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Although the impact area is currently unknown, these chunks of metal are most likely to land somewhere in the ocean or on an uninhabited landmass.

The out-of-control satellite is widely believed to be an experimental imaging craft launched by US military in December 2006. Its communication and propulsion systems failed shortly after launch and it was only a matter of time before the craft came back down to Earth.

Normally, when a satellite re-enters the atmosphere at the end of its life, there is some control over the trajectory. In the current case, the descent will be completely uncontrolled, making when and where it will land a matter of guesswork, the report said.

But experts like Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts, US, see little to be concerned about.

"Junk has been falling out of the sky for 40 years and at worst there have been a few cases of minor property damage," he told New Scientist.

According to McDowell, most of the debris that makes it through re-entry will be considerably smaller than the spent rocket stages that jettison during satellite launches.

"Something this size comes down in an uncontrolled way every couple of weeks," he said.

"We have had hundreds of spy satellites that come back into the atmosphere, all without incident," said Jeffrey Richelson, fellow of National Security Archive. "It should burn up like all the others, in which case there's nothing to worry about at all," he added.

According to Max Meerman, a satellite engineer at MDA in Vancouver, Canada, the likely crash area will only become clear about a day before re-entry, during the satellite's final few orbits.

"Those orbits dictate the strip of Earth where it could fall," said Meerman.

"If we are lucky, the last few orbits are over the Oceans, if unlucky the last orbits pass over land. Even then, most likely it will fall on some piece of empty land," he added.

Source: ANI
SRM/K
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