28 Sep 2011

Satellite debris landed in Pacific - NASA

1:44 pm on 28 September 2011

The American space agency NASA says debris from a defunct six-tonne science satellite that crashed to Earth at the weekend fell harmlessly into the ocean in the rough vicinity of Samoa but far from any major land mass.

Experts have estimated that as much as 495 kilograms of debris survived the bus-sized satellite's fiery plunge which started at 0400 GMT on Sunday.

NASA says the satellite entered the atmosphere over the ocean at 14.1 degrees south latitude and 170.2 west longitude.

The agency says it's not aware of any debris sightings yet.

The debris was then scattered between 480 km and 1,300 km from the re-entry point, NASA said.

Measuring 10.6 km long and 4.6 km in diameter, UARS was among the largest spacecraft to plummet uncontrollably through the atmosphere.

NASA now plans for the controlled re-entry of large spacecraft, but did not when UARS was designed.

The satellite was placed into orbit by a space shuttle crew in 1991 to study ozone and other chemicals in Earth's atmosphere.

It completed its mission in 2005 and had been slowly losing altitude ever since, pulled by the planet's gravity.

UARS was one of about 20,000 pieces of space debris in orbit around Earth. Something the size of UARS falls back into the atmosphere about once a year.