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NASA Science

Defunct Satellite To Fall From the Sky 168

Posted by Soulskill
from the try-not-to-get-hit dept.
Front page first-timer EmLomBeeNo sends word of a 6.5-ton satellite that will soon be making a quick and fiery return to Earth. From Space.com: "The huge Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere in an uncontrolled fall in late September or early October. Much of the spacecraft is expected to burn up during re-entry, but some pieces are expected to make it intact to the ground, NASA officials said. The U.S. space agency will be taking measures to inform the public about the pieces of the spacecraft that are expected to survive re-entry." According to a NASA press conference today, you have a 1-in-21 trillion chance of being hit by falling debris. Who's feeling lucky?
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Defunct Satellite To Fall From the Sky

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  • Every day idiots all over the U.S. throw down $1 for a 1 in 100 million chance of winning some big jackpot lottery. So, on the off chance that said idiots stumble upon a news channel while channel-surfing between "The Jersey Shore" and Maury Povich's "Primetime Baby-Daddy Special" (and assuming that they're not too high to understand what's being said), there is a pretty good chance that they'll completely ignore the "1-in-21 trillion chance" addendum and only hear the "being hit by falling debris" part. In

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just look at Fukushima incident and the panicking idiots buying iodine in the US, China, Philippines, and elsewhere. Another example is spending hundreds of billions combating terrorism. They are worried about terrorists or nuclear plants while drink and driving or not worried about someone else killing them on the street.

      People, including policy makers, are stupid and don't understand odds at all.

      • by Skater (41976)
        There was an article in the Washington Post this morning about people who are afraid to go to public events for fear of terrorist attack. I'm sure many of those very same people don't think twice about getting in a car.
    • by Malties (1942112)
      So you are saying there's a chance!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Unwashed masses, indeed! This may be the single most elitist piece of self-righteous bluster ever posted on Slashdot!
    • I think that anyone who thinks there is a single "odds" for people on the earth being hit by this satellite doesn't understand orbital mechanics. Or even sub-orbital ballistics. (E.g. The further you are from the thrower, the lower your odds of being impaled by the lawn dart.)

      • by vux984 (928602)

        I think that anyone who thinks there is a single "odds" for people on the earth being hit by this satellite doesn't understand orbital mechanics.

        Sort of like the odds for being bitten by a rattlesnake tomorrow. If you live in the arizona desert and work at the zoo the odds are quite a bit higher than if you are a lawyer in alaska.

        Still an aggregate odds does exist as a single number. Divide all the people who will be bitten tomorrow by the world population... and you get a number.

        What that number means exac

    • You are more likely to be hit by a falling mobile phone, or falling coins (while walking over a fairground), than being hit by falling satellite debris...
    • If there's a 1 in 21 trillion chance that an individual will be hit, and there are 7 billion people, then the odds of someone, somewhere, getting hit are 21,000,000,000,000/7,000,000,000 or 1 in 3,000.

      Of course, seeing as people tend to clump together, the most likely scenario, IF someone gets hit, is that multiple people get hit - so that is also ~ 1 in 3,000.

      This matches pretty well with the actual odds in the article:

      There is a 1-in-3,200 chance that a person somewhere on Earth could be hit by falli

      • by ColaMan (37550)

        A 300-pound piece of flaming satellite debris traveling at supersonic speeds is going to do more than hurt a little.

        If it's something like a 300-pound crowbar, it would be wise to flee.

        If it's a typical 300-pound random assortment of parts be supersonic as it re-enters the atmosphere, but by the time it gets to a few km from the surface in the much denser air it'll be very much subsonic. Still, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be hit in the back of the head by it.

        • by tomhudson (43916)
          TFA says that individual pieces will be up to 300 pounds each. Not to worry though - if that lands on you, it's probably only going to hurt for a fraction of a second.
    • by Teckla (630646)
      I wonder which is worse: spending $1 in exchange for a little enjoyable fantasizing about what it would be like to be rich, or complaining endlessly on Slashdot about how stupid everyone else is.
    • "If humanity is to survive, we must pledge to eliminate all carbon dioxide from our atmosphere by 2030"

      Your signature made me laugh so hard I almost spewed.

      I imagine some of the enviro-whackos actually believe this.

      Ppl really need to watch the Great Global Warming Swindle.

      I do think humans are destroying the earth via pollution such as
      the great pacific garbage patch and its giant soup of BPA toxin.

      The BP oil spill, and other issue as well...such as Bhopal.

    • You know, parent. You really need to chill out and stop insulting people. Your post reeks of you projecting your self confidence issues onto others.

      I suppose that you may feel superior to others, by way of you not having a McDonald's job, but no other person is any less human than you. And for those who don't get maths and probabilities, and share your infinite wisdom about such... well I bet that they're really nice down to earth people who'd help another human without thinking twice about it.

      So have fun m

    • by DCFusor (1763438)
      But every week, someone wins each of those lotteries, and in sad comment on state of things, it's their only chance of ever getting rich too.
  • by zill (1690130) on Friday September 09, 2011 @03:26PM (#37355632)

    uncontrolled fall

    There's a reason why engineers shouldn't write press releases.

    • by jeffmeden (135043) on Friday September 09, 2011 @03:33PM (#37355754) Homepage Journal

      What, you would rather an engineer AND a communications major be required to produce the press release, in order for it to change from "uncontrolled fall" to either "planned gravitationally-assisted descent process" (if you were told to spin it "for") and "massive, fiery man-made meteor raining death on unsuspecting victims" (if you were told to spin it "against")?

      • What, you would rather an engineer AND a communications major be required to produce the press release, in order for it to change from "uncontrolled fall" to either "planned gravitationally-assisted descent process" (if you were told to spin it "for") and "massive, fiery man-made meteor raining death on unsuspecting victims" (if you were told to spin it "against")?

        You could just call those the "CNN" and "FOX" versions.

        • You could just call those the "CNN" and "FOX" versions.

          Here's a link to the FOX News article [foxnews.com]. It says "Small risk to the public". That's paraphrased from the NASA press release that says "Extremely small risk to the public". So I guess that is some spin.

      • Ah yes! From the folks who brought us the "Two valued discrete dimmer switch"
      • by mrmeval (662166)

        No they expect a grammer gnazi with a minor in cake engineering, a minor in communications and a major pain in the ass to write it in a gremmar gnazi correct way.
         

      • Kinetic military action.

  • by Fjandr (66656)

    So, does that mean there's actually a 1:3000 chance that someone on Earth will be struck? :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ruke (857276)
      Yep. TFA [space.com] puts the odds at about 1:3200, actually.
    • I think it means just that, but if you put that in perspective, there are much higher chances (almost sure) for somebody on Earth to be hit by a truck while sleeping in their bed (or add here any other improbable death)

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      Even worse! The Chinese satellite that got blasted a few years back is now 2317 traceable pieces. If the odds are for 1 piece, then odds are about 75% somebody is going to get thwacked!

      Or maybe not.

      • Even worse! The Chinese satellite that got blasted a few years back is now 2317 traceable pieces. If the odds are for 1 piece, then odds are about 75% somebody is going to get thwacked!

        Or maybe not.

        Very much maybe not. That figure makes the assumption that none of the pieces will burn up on re-entry. Given that it's already in small pieces that will individually burn up more easily and that UARS is "huge" (I have no info on the Chinese ex-satellite, but let's assume for the moment that it was of fairly average size), the chances of being hit by a piece of that Chinese satellite are probably far lower.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday September 09, 2011 @03:32PM (#37355746) Homepage

    So apparently they used the remaining fuel a few years ago to move it into a more rapidly decaying orbit. If they had enough fuel to do that why not just deorbit the whole thing in a controlled fashion and aim it at an ocean? We've done that before. Obviously these are some very smart people but it seems weird that they'd have exactly enough fuel to put it into a rapidly decaying orbit but not enough fuel to handle that last little bit.

    On the bright side, the danger from deorbiting satellites is pretty small. The biggest actual problem that has occurred when a Soviet satellite with radioactive material decided to scatter itself over a large part of Canada back in the 1970s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosmos_954 [wikipedia.org]. When the US space station Skylab pulled a similar stunt over Australia, the local government fined NASA a few hundred dollars for littering.

    • by clarkn0va (807617)

      why not just deorbit the whole thing in a controlled fashion and aim it at an ocean?

      Or a Michael Bolton concert, assuming you're trying to minimise the chance of it hitting someone.

      • by cyn1c77 (928549)

        why not just deorbit the whole thing in a controlled fashion and aim it at an ocean?

        Or a Michael Bolton concert, assuming you're trying to minimise the chance of it hitting someone.

        Or China. You know they are going to end up recycling the metal anyway.

    • Perhaps actually deorbiting in a controlled manner, aiming for a particular impact zone, would take more fuel than they had, but switching to a naturally decaying orbit for the same impact zone in a number of orbits time was doable?

    • by Baloroth (2370816)
      According to TFA they used all its fuel just getting it into a lower orbit. It's a pretty large satellite, so I imagine even that probably took a lot of fuel. Also, it's been dead since 2005, so even the de-orbit took quite a while.
    • by Rich0 (548339)

      Well, the fact that it took years to de-orbit even after lowering the orbit suggests that they just ran out of fuel.

      De-orbiting a satellite takes quite a bit of fuel, actually. I doubt that most carry that much. They are trying to carry enough to get the satellite into a low enough orbit that it eventually de-orbits, so that they aren't stuck up there forever. Things like geosync satellites don't have nearly enough fuel to do even that - you'd need something resembling the booster rocket that put it in o

    • Think of it this way, all orbital changes take energy. Now that is obvious but bear in mind that ALL orbital changes take energy. What I'm getting at is that the velocity for a satellite determines its altitude range (or just it's altitude in the case of a circular orbit).

      Since any change in velocity takes energy (fuel) and the difference between an orbit that is 100% clear of the atmosphere is a vastly different energy than one that is mostly or all in it. Now, on the other hand if you intentionally make t

    • by SETIGuy (33768) *
      If they use the rest of the fuel to lower the orbit, it's quite possible they didn't have enough fuel for a full deorbit.
    • by RevWaldo (1186281)

      The biggest actual problem that has occurred when a Soviet satellite with radioactive material decided to scatter itself over a large part of Canada back in the 1970s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosmos_954 [wikipedia.org]

      The satellite
      Was out of sight
      Radioactive though
      Quite all right
      When it was high
      But now it's very low.. [youtube.com]


      .

  • Back of envelope calculation shows me they're saying there's a 1 in 3000 chance of some person getting hit somewhere. Or am I holding it wrong?

  • there millon-to-one chances happens 9 of 10 times. But as this is world maybe 1 in 21 trillions is the right spot that turns it into something certain.
    • by stewbee (1019450)
      Nice. I just read "Guards, Guards", where they mention this sort of logic. I haven't made it through all of his books yet. (man, there's a bunch!). My chances of reading them all, however, are a million- to-one.
      • by TheBig1 (966884)
        I have read all that are at the local library (which I am pretty sure is almost all of them). Highly recommended: he is one of the funniest fantasy writers I have read in a long time, definitely up there with Douglas Adams (and possibly even a bit better; blasphemy, I know!).
  • ... it could be another Skylab (what a waste!) with a trajectory that drops it over, say, Europe instead of the Aussie outback.

  • Could my family sue NASA for damages caused by negligance?

    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      Glad to hear that's the first thing you thought of. *rolls eyes*
    • by Jeng (926980)

      No, but you might end up in limbo having to help the recently dead to reach their final destination. You may then end up haunting your former family driving them insane and splitting them up.

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Friday September 09, 2011 @03:51PM (#37356034)

    NASA says run, but not in a straight line.

  • Toilet Seat Girl (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sacridias (2322944) on Friday September 09, 2011 @03:55PM (#37356088)
    Not sure how many are fans of dead like me, but the simple fact that she got nailed by a toilet seat comes to mind with this story.
    Just be careful not to get hit, as you will be nicknamed toilet seat girl/boy for the remainder of your unlife.
  • by sootman (158191)

    Is this the same NASA that thought there was a 1-in-100,000 chance of a catastrophic Shuttle failure?

  • How do they come up with that number? does that mean there are 21 trillion square whatevers of land that someone could possibly be standing? What if you are on a boat? what if you and 5 friends are on a boat is your boat 5 times more likely to get hit? WE NEED THESE DETAILS!
  • Ellen Muth is worried about this.

    For those of you who won't get this joke:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Like_Me [wikipedia.org]

  • How they say in the article that the satellite remains US property. Yeah okay, if their junk lands in my backyard (Canada) I think I'll keep it. Seriously how are they going to enforce that if it lands somewhere not in the US? I'm sorry but if your junk lands on some other countries soil they can do with it as they please.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Probably not. Odds are pretty good that the US and Canada have a treaty about that. Say an Air Canada jet had engine problems and landed at a private airport. Would it be okay for the owners of the airport to just keep it?
      The same treaties apply to in this case as say when a Russian pilot landed a Mig 25 in Japan. That plane was returned after it was inspected.... into little pieces.

    • by Dr La (1342733)
      Actually, many/most countries are signatory to the Space Treaty that specifically states (amongst other things) that any space debris landing on their territory has to be turned over to the country who launched it, if the latter wishes so. So yes: by international law, UARS remains US property.
  • And you can improve on that quite a bit. Just go down to the local surplus store, buy some satellite spare parts and drop them on your house.

    The odds of one house being hit by two pieces of satellite is vanishingly small.

  • In the first link in the summary, there are two images of the satellite--one against a backdrop of Earth and attached to a Space Shuttle manipulation boom. The next image is labeled as being the same thing except against a backdrop of deep space.

    If so, then why are there clearly a wall, window and door in the darkened background of the second image? It appears to be a mock-up, or even possibly a scale-model, held in the air by the boom.

    Mislabeled image, or is this a "Capricorn One" moment?

    Image:
    http://i.spa [space.com]

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