Buzz Out Loud Lounge forum: U.S. satellite gonna come down on Earth in...somewhere...

by: shawnlin January 27, 2008 8:48 AM PST

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U.S. satellite gonna come down on Earth in...somewhere...

by shawnlin - 1/27/08 8:48 AM

U.S. satellite gonna come down on Earth in...somewhere...
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/01/27/america/satellite.php
http://www.space.com/news/ap-080126-spy-satelite.html

So you may be wondering how often this happens...and that depends on what you mean by "often". Tim the Rocket Scientist and any other satellite experts - please correct me if I'm wrong on this thread as satellites are not my forte...

Most satellites go through a deorbit, burn-up, and dunk in the ocean. I don't really have a number, but I think it's in the 10-25 per year range.

Most are controlled trajectories, some are not controlled, but they the trajectory has been safely set. However, this seem to be a case where the de-orbit trajectory has not been and it won't be a controlled either - this can be dangerous. Calculations on the landing area accurate to up to +/-1000miles - that's why aiming to "land" the satellite in a huge uninhabited part of Earth, like an ocean, is attractive.

There are some clever ideas for deorbit "bolt-on" modules: http://www.tethers.com/papers/SmallSat_nanoTerminator.pdf
Also, the Hubble Space Telescope is expected to be deorbited by a "bolt-on" de-orbit module that is expected to automatically mate to the telescope and safely deorbit.

As far as why they forced to deorbit - a few major reasons: if they have become or are at risk of becoming less than flight-worthy, if they are simply too expensive to maintain/operate, and/or if they are not useful enough to use (even as a back-up).

So...how paranoid should you be considering the satellite has some nasty, toxic hydrazine? Well, not really any because many, many people and organizations will be calculating where the impact area is and considering ~2/3rds of Earth is covered by water - probably not gonna hit land. But I'm sure information about both hydrazine and impact location will be forthcoming in the next couple weeks.

Best,
Shalin

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