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Fallen Satellites & Spacecraft


Title: Skylab's Fiery Fall
Date: July 16, 1979
Source: TIME

Abstract: With varying degrees of fear, anger and fascination, but mostly with a detached kind of bemusement, the world this week awaits an unprecedented event: the fiery fall of the largest machine man has ever hurled into space. The American Sky lab vehicle, nine stories tall and weighing 77.5 tons, is expected to slip into the earth's upper atmosphere, then disintegrate into a celestial shower of flaming metal as spectacular as any of last week's Fourth of July fireworks displays (TIME, 1979)

Title: Soviet Spy Satellite Falls Into Mid-Indian Ocean
Date: January 24, 1983
Source:
Harvard Crimson

Abstract: An out-of-control, radioactive Soviet spy satellite planed to fiery destruction in Earth's dense atmosphere over the mid-Indian Ocean yesterday, the Pentagon announced.

Air Force Cot. Robert O'Brien, a Pentagon spokesman, said U.S. observers on the island of Diego Garcia reported seeing a "40-second burn" in the sky at 5:15 EST, six minutes before the satellite's main hulk rammed fully into the dense atmosphere.

The North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) confirmed that the main body of the Soviet Cosmos 1402, estimated to weight about 8000 pounds, fell into the atmosphere at 5:21 p.m. EST.

At 6:10 p.m., the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called off its worldwide alert and informed emergency teams standing by across the country to disband.

In a message to officials in all 50 states, FEMA said, "the public should be advised that protective action in connection with Cosmos 1402 is no longer necessary and thus the alert is over."

Pentagon officials said the satellite's "impact area" was about 980 nautical miles, 1127 statute miles southeast of the British-owned Island of Diego Carcia, where the United States maintains a naval base.

NORAD placed the re-entry point at about 25 degrees south Institute by 84 degrees east longitude.

"We do not know at this time whether any portion of the satellite reached the earth's surface intact," the Pentagon statement said. "U.S. nuclear fallout data collections assets have been instructed to watch for increased levels of radiation in the atmosphere, but it is impossible to say at this time what the result of this effort might be."

Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Foutch said these "assets" are U.S. ships and planes, equipped with devices which can defect radiation.

Defence officials said they planned so further statements for the remainder of the day.

A second and smaller portion of the satellite, sent into space last Aug. 30 to monitor movements of U.S. and other ships, remains in orbit and is expected to fall in mid-February.

The Pentagon has said this section "could contain radioactive nuclear fuel," which powered the satellite's radar (Harvard Crimson, 1983)

Title: Soviet Satellite Moving Toward Fall To Earth
Date: August 10, 1987
Source:
Orlando Sentinel

Abstract: U.S. military and space officials Sunday tracked a mysterious Soviet satellite that was expected to plunge to Earth somewhere in the South Pacific early this morning.

Officials of the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs said the satellite would re-enter the atmosphere about 1:13 a.m. MDT.

''So far we're saying the South Pacific, it looks like about 1,500 miles east of New Zealand,'' said Lt. Col. Ivan Pinnell. Sunday it was in orbit around the poles with a high point of 90 miles and a low point of 78.6 miles.

It was not clear how much of the satellite would survive re-entry to strike the Earth's surface. 'It's a danger because this is a big piece of space hardware,'' said James Oberg, an expert on the Soviet space program.

The satellite, Cosmos 1871, was launched Aug. 1, possibly by an SL-16 booster, into a polar orbit favored for spy satellites. The SL-16 can lift up to 15 tons into orbit. That weight would make it is the heaviest spacecraft put in orbit around the poles.

Oberg said the Soviet Union delayed disclosing the launch by 51 hours. He said the delay may mean a ''major malfunction.''

Sauders Kramer, a Soviet space expert in Washington, said it was not clear what type of satellite it is, other than it's big. ''It's a mystery. We're wondering what the hell is going on'' (Orlando Sentinel, 1987).

Title: Soviets Admit Satellite Will Fall, Claim It Will Be Safe
Date: May 13, 1988
Source:
LA Times

Abstract: The Soviet Union admitted today that a nuclear-powered spy satellite launched in December will plunge to Earth within four months but said steps will be taken to ensure that its radioactive parts are no danger to man or the environment.

The official Tass press agency said all radio contact with the Cosmos 1900 satellite was lost in April.

Soviet space officials are continuing to monitor its deteriorating orbit but without radio contact and officials on the ground have no control over the satellite, Tass said.

"The artificial Earth satellite Cosmos 1900 with a nuclear power plant on board was launched Dec. 12, 1987," Tass said.

" . . . The satellite will fly in orbit until August-September, 1988, after which it will cease to exist. The satellite Cosmos 1900 has systems ensuring radiation safety on completion of the flight."

'All Is Under Control'
The Tass announcement followed comments Wednesday by a British Defense Ministry spokesman who said that his government is tracking the satellite and that due to its deteriorating orbit 160 miles above the Earth, there is a chance that Cosmos 1900 might crash to Earth in two to three months.

Today, a spokesman for the Soviet commercial space agency Glavkosmos said Cosmos 1900 presents no danger.

"The situation has stabilized and all is under control now," the spokesman said.

Western experts have said they fear that Cosmos 1900, a spy satellite that tracks Western ships at sea, may break apart as it falls back to Earth, possibly spreading radioactive debris from its 100-pound nuclear reactor over populated areas.

The atomic reactor supplies power to a massive radar system used to track sea traffic, often for military purposes.

Debris Spread in Canada
In 1978, the nuclear-powered Soviet satellite Cosmos 951 fell from orbit, unexpectedly spreading radioactive debris over a large section of northern Canada.

Western space experts said they believe that such nuclear-powered Soviet satellites have a built-in "fail-safe" system that boosts the nuclear power plant into a higher orbit where it drifts for decades before finally disintegrating.

Should that system somehow fail, the reactor section may break apart from the main satellite body and burn up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, they said.

But if the reactor section fails to separate, the experts said, there is a good chance that the reactor will survive the intense heat of re-entry and present a potential danger to man and the environment (LA Times, 1988)

Title: U.S. Plans For Possible Crash Of Straying Russian Satellite
Date: August 9, 1988
Source:
New York Times

Abstract: Federal officials have begun planning in case an out-of-control Russian satellite powered by a nuclear reactor plunges to earth inside the United States.

At the moment, ''we don't anticipate at all that it will land on the United States,'' said Peg Malloy, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. ''But we need to have our act together to respond to any catastrophic emergency, so we're coordinating an inter-agency effort right now.''

Soviet controllers unexpectedly lost radio contact with the craft in April. Tass, the Government press agency, reported May 11 that the satellite could fall to Earth in August or September.

The planning has drawn together representatives from the Departments of Defense, State, Health and Human Services and Energy in addition to the Environmental Protection Agency, Ms. Malloy said. Dealing With Radioactivity

The agencies are working to tailor the emergency management agency's general procedures for handling radioactivity to deal with the possibility of radioactive satellite pieces across the countryside, Ms. Malloy said.

Those general procedures, formally called the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan, were originally developed after the Three-Mile Island accident in 1979, she added.

The satellite under scrutiny is a nuclear-powered, ocean-surveillance satellite launched by the Soviet Union last Dec. 12 to keep track of United States Navy vessels. The satellite, designated by the Soviets as Cosmos 1900, began its life in space in a low circular orbit about 160 miles above the earth.

Soviet officials have insisted there is no reason to fear radioactive debris from the spacecraft's re-entry. But Pentagon officials said the Soviets have apparently been unable to separate either the nuclear reactor or the fuel section from the rest of the satellite, two common safeguards.

That raises the possibility that Cosmos 1900 could re-enter the atmosphere in one piece, meaning it might not burn up completely. That could spread harmful radioactive debris, as Cosmos 954 did over Canada in 1978.

''At the moment, it's still a one-piece satellite,'' Cmdr. Dugald Gillies of the Navy and a spokesman for the United States Space Command said (New York Times, 1988).

Title: Soviet Nuclear-Powered Satellite Expected To Hit Earth In Summer
Date: May 14, 1988
Source:
New York Times

Abstract: A crippled Soviet nuclear-powered satellite is expected to fall to Earth in August or September, threatening to spread radioactive debris. Yesterday both Soviet and American officials said they were monitoring the situation.

Coincidentally, a top Soviet space official and private American scientists called yesterday for a ban on nuclear reactors in orbit about the Earth.

The proposal for a ban, announced at a news conference in Washington, was originally meant mainly to help block President Reagan's anti-missile program, which could require a series of nuclear reactors in space to power sensors and beam weapons. A $350 million prototype reactor, known as the SP-100, is currently under development.

But in an announcement that added urgency to the issue, the Soviet press agency Tass said radio contact had been lost with Cosmos 1900, a satellite ''with a nuclear power plant on board.'' Over the years, the Soviet military has put 33 nuclear-powered satellites into space, and two have re-entered the atmosphere and rained radioactive debris on the Earth. 'Steadily Decaying Orbit'

Maj. Alex Mondragon, a spokesman for the United States Space Command in Colorado Springs, said the satellite ''has been in a steadily decaying orbit for the last month'' and would re-enter the atmosphere if nothing was done.

The proposed ban would bar reactors orbiting Earth but would permit nuclear reactors aboard deep-space probes, like a manned mission to Mars.

The proposal, under development for months, would ''prevent both the radioactive contamination of the Earth's surface and the extension of the arms race into space,'' said a statement signed by Ronald Sagdeyev, chairman of the Committee of Soviet Scientists Against the Nuclear Threat and director of the Soviet Space Research Institute, and Frank von Hippel, chairman of the research arm of the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists and a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University.

In 1964 an American navigational satellite failed to reach orbit, spreading plutonium-238 around the globe.

More recent accidents have involved Soviet satellites. In January 1978, Cosmos 954, powered by 110 pounds of uranium, spread thousands of pieces of radioactive debris across Canada.

Nicholas L. Johnson, author of the annual ''Soviet Year in Space,'' published by Teledyne Brown Engineering in Colorado Springs, Colo., said yesterday that suspicions arose about the currently troubled satellite, Cosmos 1900, in mid-April when it failed to boost its decaying orbit with rocket thrusters.

Tass said radio contact with the satellite, launched Dec. 12, was lost in April. ''The satellite Cosmos 1900 has systems insuring radiation safety on completion of the flight,'' Tass said.

Mr. Johnson said he was unsure what the ''safety'' systems might be. One backup system for satellites that cannot be boosted is for the satellite to eject its nuclear reactor, allowing both to burn up in the atmosphere.

''At this late date, with the loss of radio contact, that seems unlikely,'' he said. If separation fails, the satellite body could act as a heat shield for the reactor, allowing parts of it to remain intact all the way down to the surface of the Earth (New York Times, 1988)

Title: NASA Racing Against Time To Save Satellite
Date: August 21, 1989
Source:
Chicago Tribune

Abstract: As an 11-ton scientific satellite slips back toward Earth faster than expected, the space agency is racing to retrieve it before it crashes.

The space shuttle Columbia is scheduled to rescue the spacecraft, which is about the size of a city bus, on Dec. 18, but it could come earlier, officials say.

If the big satellite does fall to Earth, few Americans are in danger. It passes over only Hawaii, southern Florida and the southern tip of Texas.

However, most of Africa, South America, India, Southeast Asia and Australia could be hit by fiery debris.

Last week a solar storm heated and expanded the atmosphere, increasing the drag on the low-flying satellite and raising the odds for a blazing demise.

Scientists say the stakes in the shuttle rescue mission go beyond rescuing this errant satellite to using the shuttle for servicing and retrieving spacecraft, not just carrying them into orbit.

``We`d like to demonstrate that we have a dependable spacecraft we can use for routine servicing,`` said Dr. William H. Kinard, chief scientist for the wayward craft.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is putting two shuttles on launch pads for the rescue mission in case of a delay for either one. It may also ask the Defense Department to postpone a shuttle mission this year so the NASA rescue attempt can be moved up to November.

Ten years ago the Skylab space station fell from orbit, raining debris over the Indian Ocean and Australia.

If the rescue mission fails, experts say 5,600 pounds of debris might survive re-entry to hit the Earth, but the chance of people being hurt would be remote.

The $14 million satellite, the Long Duration Exposure Facility, is doing 57 scientific experiments, many of them to record how spacecraft materials hold up to intense bursts of cosmic rays, solar radiation and micrometeorites. The satellite has no central power, no antenna, no radio, no large solar panels. Each experiment is self-contained, providing its own power and data recorder if needed.

Space agency experts say the satellite`s unique collection of data is crucial for the design of new spacecraft meant to last decades rather than years. NASA`s proposed $30 billion space station, for instance, is to last 30 years.

``Without this data,`` Kinard said, ``future spacecraft will have to be designed with considerable conservatism, which could mean increased weight, cost and risk, both to the mission and to men aboard the spacecraft,`` in the case of the space station.

Clues from the satellite would aid the placement of shielding for space stations to protect astronauts from speeding space debris, which is increasingly seen as a potential source of damage.

The satellite was taken launched from the shuttle in April, 1984. It was meant to be picked up a year later but a scheduling delay let the retrieval slip to 1986.

Then the satellite was stranded after the Challenger disaster early that year grounded the shuttle program for 32 months.

On Dec. 18, the shuttle Columbia and a crew of five is to go into orbit. The errant satellite is to be seized by the shuttle`s 60-foot robot arm, stowed in the spaceship`s cargo bay - which is big enough for two such satellites - and taken back to Earth (Chicago Tribune, 1989).  

Title: Satellite Studying The Sun Is Falling Out Of Orbit
Date: November 13, 1989
Source:
New York Times

Abstract: There will be no saving Solar Max this time.

The three-ton spacecraft, known formally as the Solar Maximum Mission satellite, is slowly but inexorably falling out of orbit, descending at a rate of more than half a mile a day.

It is now predicted to come crashing into the atmosphere as early as Nov. 29.

Although nearly all of the craft should burn up in the upper atmosphere, some fragments could survive re-entry and fall on equatorial regions of the world. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration says any debris would most likely fall in the ocean and so should not pose a serious threat to populated areas.

A more exact prediction of the time and place of the satellite's fiery plunge will not be possible until an hour or two before it is to occur. Was Captured and Repaired

In trouble once before, Solar Max in 1984 became the first craft to be captured and repaired in space by shuttle astronauts. The craft was left in a higher orbit for almost six more years of fruitful observations of the Sun. But the space agency turned down scientists who pleaded late last year for another rescue mission by astronauts and decided to let the laws of gravity take their course.

The decision underscored the limitations on the availability of the shuttles to handle important missions. Given the large backlog of shuttle payloads, a consequence of the Challenger disaster in 1986, NASA officials could not squeeze in a second Solar Max rescue without causing further expensive delays for science missions with higher priority.

''The final decision, after two years of agonizing over it, was to say no to Solar Max, even though it's been a super spacecraft,'' said Charles Redmond, a NASA spokesman in Washington.

The distress of another spacecraft in orbit influenced the decision. The 11-ton Long Duration Exposure Facility, or LDEF, is also losing altitude rapidly and must be recovered, if at all, no later than February. The big satellite, placed in orbit in 1984 by the same shuttle crew that repaired Solar Max, is an inert platform carrying samples of electronics, metals, plastics and other materials to determine how they hold up when exposed for a long time to cosmic rays, solar radiation and micrometeorites.

The platform was originally supposed to be brought back to Earth for examination after a year in orbit. That retrieval by a shuttle was postponed for scheduling reasons and then put off indefinitely when the Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven crew members. Considered More Worthy

''A lot of us would have liked to go and get Solar Max, refurbish it on the ground and relaunch it,'' said Dr. Dale W. Harris, the deputy director for flight projects at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. ''But if there could be only one rescue mission, it was thought that getting the data from LDEF was more worthwhile.''

Space agency engineers argued forcefully that the platform's 57 experiments in material endurance were crucial for the design of the $30 billion space station, which is supposed to have an orbital lifetime of three decades. Officials of the Pentagon's Strategic Defense Initiative wanted to examine the platform to learn how to insure the long endurance of space-based antimissile weapons.

As a result, astronauts in late December are scheduled to fly the space shuttle Columbia to a rendezvous with the big satellite, grab it with the shuttle's long mechanical arm and haul it into the cargo bay for a return to Earth. The mission is tentatively set for liftoff on Dec. 18.

Both the big satellite and Solar Max - indeed, all spacecraft in low Earth orbits -are being buffeted by the effects of the Sun as it reaches a peak of turbulent activity that occurs every 11 years. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said ''unprecedented high levels of solar activity'' began last March and this was undoubtedly reducing the operational life of some spacecraft. It is just such solar activity that Solar Max was designed to study.

Dr. Joseph Gurman, the chief Solar Max scientist at the Goddard center, said the primary effect on spacecraft comes indirectly from the Sun's enhanced emissions of ultraviolet radiation at times of peak sunspot activity, a period know as the solar maximum. The increased ultraviolet radiation heats Earth's upper atmosphere, causing it to expand outward.

Even in the most placid of solar times, enough atmospheric molecules reach the altitudes where they cause some friction against Earth-orbiting spacecraft. The drag tends to pull a craft down a few miles each year, unless it is equipped with propulsion systems capable of regaining altitude. In the last few months, the ultraviolet emissions have risen sharply, and spacecraft are now encountering more atmospheric friction. Frequent Magnetic Eruptions

In addition, magnetic eruptions on the Sun are occurring more frequently during solar maximum and producing intense solar flares. The flares bring a rain of high-energy particles that produce communications-disrupting magnetic storms and auroras in the Earth's atmosphere. The increase in magnetic and particle activity in Earth's vicinity acts as a brief but even stronger drag on orbiting craft. Within two days of a solar flare last month, Solar Max's rate of descent went from a half-mile a day to more than one mile.

''I guess the flare hurried things up,'' Dr. Harris said, explaining the change of the spacecraft's predicted demise from mid-December to Dec. 3, by some calculations, or Nov. 29, by others.

According to studies conducted for NASA, several pieces of Solar Max, weighing from 25 to 400 pounds, could survive the re-entry and reach the Earth's surface. The debris could strike anywhere between 28 degrees north latitude and 28 degrees south, which is the part of the world over which Solar Max is traveling. More than 75 percent of the area is water, Dr. Harris said, but it also includes parts of Africa, South America, India, Southeast Asia and Australia. The only parts of the United States at any risk are Hawaii, southern Florida and the southern tip of Texas.

''The probability of doing damage is very, very small,'' Dr. Harris said.

If the LDEF platform is not retrieved, it could rain even more debris on Earth. But neither it nor Solar Max is considered as great a hazard as the Skylab space station, which weighed nearly 100 tons and came down 10 years ago. Fragments hit the Indian Ocean and some remote areas of Australia, but caused no known injuries or serious property damage. No Propulsion System

Dr. Harris said Solar Max has no propulsion system so cannot be raised to a higher orbit or aimed for a re-entry point avoiding land. Engineers will not have any communications with the craft in its final days, as it tumbles out of control and loses its antenna lock on Earth. Radar tracking observations should provide an hour or two of advance warning of the craft's plunge.

Solar Max was originally lofted by a rocket into a 356-mile-high orbit in 1980. But it was designed to be serviced by the shuttle, and so in 1984 the astronauts replaced some failed components and left the craft 310 miles in orbit. It is now down to 190 miles. By the time it descends to less than 180 miles, engineers figure, Solar Max is likely begin its fiery plunge.

Solar Max continues to return data on the Sun, including observations of the recent flares and the collision of a comet into the Sun in September. Engineers are also extracting measurements on the spacecraft's performance for use in future designs.

As much as he and other solar physicists regret the impending loss, Dr. Gurman said Solar Max had returned data for almost 10 years, just short of a full solar cycle, and Japan, the European Space Agency and the United States have plans for more ambitious spacecraft missions to study the Sun in the next decade.

Mission planners at the Johnson Space Center in Houston are making a careful study of the other endangered spacecraft, LDEF, as they plot the maneuvers necessary for the space shuttle to find and retrieve the craft. Al Pennington, a flight director, said the platform had descended from its original altitude of 290 miles to 232 miles and is predicted to be at 210 miles when the rescue mission is launched.

Because of the rapidly changing position of the spacecraft, Brian D. Welch, a spokesman at the Johnson center, said flight controllers would be making ''exquisite refinements'' in the rendezvous strategy up to the day and hour of liftoff (New York Times, 1989)

Title: U.S. Satellite Is Dropping From Orbit
Date: November 28, 1989
Source:
New York Times

Abstract: The orbit of Solar Max, a 5,000-pound satellite that collected information on solar flares for nine years, has deteriorated to the point that the spacecraft should crash back to earth late this week, the space agency said today.

Most of the craft will burn up in the atmosphere, but about a dozen pieces of three to five pounds each, plus one piece of about 100 pounds, are expected to come back down to earth. The debris could fall anywhere on earth from 28 degrees north to 28 degrees south of the Equator.

Nearly 80 percent of that area is water. If the pieces do hit land, they could land in an area that includes the extreme southern portion of the United States, Africa, Australia and Central and South America. Re-entry Possible on Saturday

A spokeswoman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the most likely date for the re-entry was Saturday.

Solar Max, short for Solar Maximum Mission, made history by becoming the first satellite to be repaired by a space shuttle when astronauts aboard the Challenger fixed it in April 1984.

The astronauts repaired a malfunctioning rocket used as part of the satellite's steering mechanism.

Over the years Solar Max has slipped from its original altitude of 356 miles above Earth to about 135 miles.

It was originally expected that a second space shuttle mission would retrieve the craft and return it to the higher orbit to prevent it from falling to Earth.

But since the Challenger explosion in January 1986, the number of shuttle missions has been cut back, making it necessary to eliminate many planned missions. The Solar Max mission was among those that were cut. Launching in 1980

The $80 million spacecraft was launched Feb. 14, 1980, near the height of the 11-year solar cycle.

It has since recorded more than 12,500 solar flares, improving the understanding of the release of gamma rays, X-rays and ultraviolet radiation in the flares.

After the loss of Solar Max, there will be a gap in collecting information on the Sun until new satellites are launched in the 1990's. In anticipation of its dropping back into the atmosphere, scientists ejected the craft's solar panels last week. SSS SSS SSS

SATELLITE EDITION WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (Reuters) - The orbit of Solar Max, a 5,000-pound satellite that collected information on solar flares for nine years, has deteriorated to the point that the spacecraft should crash back to earth late this week, the space agency said today.

Most of the craft will burn up in the atmosphere, but about a dozen pieces of three to five pounds each, plus one piece of about 100 pounds, are expected to come back down to earth. The debris could fall anywhere on earth from 28 degrees north to 28 degrees south of the Equator.

Nearly 80 percent of that area is water. If the pieces do hit land, they could land in an area that includes the extreme southern portion of the United States, Africa, Australia and Central and South America. Re-entry Possible on Saturday

A spokeswoman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the most likely date for the re-entry was Saturday. Solar Max, short for Solar Maximum Mission, made history by becoming the first satellite to be repaired by a space shuttle when astronauts aboard the Challenger fixed it in April 1984.

The astronauts repaired a malfunctioning rocket used as part of the satellite's steering mechanism.

Over the years Solar Max has slipped from its original altitude of 356 miles above Earth to about 135 miles.

It was originally expected that a second space shuttle mission would retrieve the craft and return it to the higher orbit to prevent it from falling to Earth.

But since the Challenger explosion in January 1986, the number of shuttle missions has been cut back, making it necessary to eliminate many planned missions. The Solar Max mission was among those that were cut. Launching in 1980

The $80 million spacecraft was launched Feb. 14, 1980, near the height of the 11-year solar cycle.

It has since recorded more than 12,500 solar flares, improving the understanding of the release of gamma rays, X-rays and ultraviolet radiation in the flares.

After the loss of Solar Max, there will be a gap in collecting information on the Sun until new satellites are launched in the 1990's. In anticipation of its dropping back into the atmosphere, scientists ejected the craft's solar panels last week (New York Times, 1989)

Title: A Satellite Falls Over Indian Ocean
Date: December 3, 1989
Source:
New York Times

Abstract: The Solar Max spacecraft, a victim of the very forces of nature it investigated for almost a decade, came crashing back to Earth yesterday, breaking into flaming pieces in the upper atmosphere but causing no known damage.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced that Solar Max, the informal name for the Solar Maximum Mission satellite, plunged out of orbit over the Indian Ocean at 5:26 A.M., Eastern standard time. Nearly all of the 5,000-pound spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere, but a few fragments could have fallen in the ocean along a track of several hundred miles.

Dick Adams, spokesman for the United States Space Command at Colorado Springs, which monitored Solar Max in its final days, said there had been no reports of the sighting of any debris. ''There is no way to know if any remnants of the satellite survived,'' he said.

Launched in February 1980, Solar Max made history as the first spacecraft to be repaired in orbit by space shuttle astronauts. They visited the crippled craft in 1984, hoisted it into the shuttle cargo bay, replaced some failed components and then released it into a high orbit. Close-Ups of the Solar Flares

The successful repair job enabled Solar Max to continue detailed observations of the Sun and especially the powerful solar flares that send out showers of high-energy particles causing magnetic storms in Earth's atmosphere.

The spacecraft operated through almost a complete solar cycle, from a time of peak solar turbulence, or solar maximum, through the relatively quiet years and to the return of turbulence in recent months.

Indeed, it was the rise in ultraviolet emissions from the Sun and a sharp increase in solar flares that doomed the spacecraft. They caused Solar Max to begin its slow but steady fall from orbit. The spacecraft had no propulsion system for raising its orbit.

The increased ultraviolet radiation heated Earth's upper atmosphere, causing it to expand outward. In that situation, a spacecraft can encounter more atmospheric friction, which acts as a drag to slow the vehicle and cause it to descend steadily into lower and lower orbits. The sudden increase of magnetic and particle activity from solar flares created a brief but strong drag on Solar Max, lowering its orbit as much as half a mile a day.

The Decline & Fall

From an original altitude of 356 miles the spacecraft dropped below 140 two weeks ago. Flight controllers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in effect pulled the plug. Before they lost radio contact with the spacecraft, the controllers commanded Solar Max to jettison its solar-power panels.

Dr. Dale W. Harris, deputy director for flight projects at Goddard, said this was a successful test of the spacecraft's designed ability to cast off the panels so that if it was ever necessary, such a craft could be returned to Earth in the cargo bay of the shuttle.

With no solar panels, the spacecraft soon went silent. Radar tracking stations continued to monitor Solar Max as it tumbled and descended. For several days, the Space Command, which tracks orbital traffic, had predicted that the end would come this weekend. Risks the Satellite Missed

The part of the world over which Solar Max traveled runs from 28 degrees north latitude to 28 degrees south, and more than 80 percent of that area is water. But there was some risk that debris would come down over parts of Africa, Australia, South America, India and Southeast Asia.

The only parts of the United States at any risk were parts of Hawaii, southern Florida and the southern tip of Texas.

The spacecraft cost $77 million to build and launch. Last year, scientists petitioned NASA to send up a shuttle to rendezvous with Solar Max and either bring it home or haul it to a higher, safer orbit. But the shuttle schedule, still crowded by the backlog that built up since the Challenger accident in 1986, could not be revised, the space agency said.

Dr. Joseph Gurman, the chief Solar Max scientist at Goddard, said the spacecraft's decade of operations had given scientists ''a much better understanding of solar flares and the whole cycle of solar activity.''

The spacecraft's achievements included the first observations of gamma rays from the 1987 supernova, or exploding star; the detection of 10 comets colliding with the Sun; monitoring changes in high-altitude ozone over Earth, and recording and studying more than 12,500 solar flares (New York Times, 1989).

Title: Soviet Satellite's Earthbound Scientists Expect It To Fall Somewhere In The Americas
Date: February 6, 1991
Source:
Philly.com

Abstract: Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a crashing Soviet space station.

Some flaming parts of the 90-foot-long, 43-ton abandoned Salyut 7 space station are expected to plunge through the atmosphere and hit earth between noon today and 4 p.m. tomorrow, according to American and Soviet space experts.

Debris from the station weighing between 2,600 and 4,400 pounds may reach earth, depending on how much is burned up by atmospheric friction, the official Soviet news agency, Tass, said yesterday.

Experts say the chance that debris will cause damage or injury in populated areas is extremely small. Nevertheless, space experts worldwide are using radar to track the derelict station that once was the centerpiece of the Soviet space program.

The best guess now is that it will fall on South America. However, the space station's orbit carries it over a broad swath of the earth, including the United States (Philly.com, 1991)

Title: Satellite Falls To Earth
Date: March 13, 1996
Source:
New York Times

Abstract: A Chinese spy satellite falling from space disappeared harmlessly over the south Atlantic late Monday night.

Air Force trackers here said they were not sure whether the two-ton capsule survived re-entry into Earth's atmosphere when its 17,000-mile-per-hour free fall ended (New York Times, 1996)

Title: The Probe That Fell To Earth
Date: March 6, 1999
Source:
New Scientist

Abstract: If a spacecraft carrying a deadly cargo of plutonium crashed in a remote area, you'd expect an international search effort to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. But you'd be wrong, says James Oberg.

While camping one weekend in the mountains of southern Chile, John VanderBrink witnessed an extraordinary event. Late at night he saw a bright, slow-moving meteor low in the northwestern night sky, travelling horizontally from left to right about 10 degrees above the horizon. "The object was brighter than Sirius and had a luminous trail five degrees in length," recalls VanderBrink. He even saw sparkling fragments break away from the main object. He and his wife Katrina followed the object's path for almost a minute until it disappeared behind mountains to the north.

VanderBrink is an electronics specialist at the European Southern Observatory near La Serena and it was clear to him that this was no ordinary meteor. "I had no illusions that it was anything other than a piece of space debris," he says. A very large piece, as it would turn out. What the VanderBrinks saw that night was almost certainly the re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere of a failed Russian spacecraft called Mars-96 .

Although an unusual sight, the re-entry of a spacecraft would usually be of little interest. But Mars-96 was no ordinary vehicle. The spacecraft was carrying around 200 grams of plutonium, a hot radioactive element that was supposed to provide power on the cold Martian surface. Plutonium is considered to be one of the most poisonous substances known to humankind. In the wrong hands, it could be used as a spectacular weapon of terror.

Nobody knows exactly what happened to the spacecraft's deadly cargo. While governments prefer to think it is lying at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, there is growing evidence--including thousands of eyewitness reports like the VanderBrinks'--that the plutonium fell intact into the Andes. It is almost certainly still lying there, probably somewhere near the border between Chile and Bolivia. And nobody seems to care who finds it.

Russia's Mars-96 probe was the most ambitious Russian interplanetary expedition ever and designed to solve many of the Red Planet's mysteries. The 7-tonne spacecraft actually consisted of five separate vehicles. The largest--a 5-tonne section--was designed to orbit the planet. Two landers, each weighing 50 kilograms, were designed to enter the Martian atmosphere and broadcast from the surface. Two "penetrators", shaped like golf tees and weighing 65 kilograms each, were even designed to survive the impact with the ground, sending them a few metres beneath the surface. The four landing craft carried a total of 18 small plutonium batteries to generate electrical power.

The launch was on Saturday, 16 November 1996, shortly after midnight from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft was so big that to get it into a parking orbit 160 kilometres above the Earth required a huge three- stage Proton rocket as well as a kick from a fourth stage thruster that would remain attached to the vehicle. The fourth stage was then supposed to fire again an hour later to push the probe on its way to Mars. Even that would be insufficient to achieve the necessary escape velocity from the Earth's gravity. The probe would then separate from the expended fourth stage and fire its own small engine to complete the escape manoeuvre.

Vladivostok or bust

After the first burn of the fourth stage, Mars-96 reached its parking orbit 20 minutes after blastoff and as it crossed China, within direct radio contact of a Russian tracking site at Ussuriysk, near Vladivostok. It then crossed the Pacific from northeast to southwest, passing within 600 kilometres of the watching eyes of the American military space tracking site on Kwajalein Island in the mid-Pacific.

The second fourth-stage burn was supposed to occur as the spacecraft flew northeast over the coast of Uruguay on the eastern side of south America. Normally, the Russians would station a tracking ship off the coast of Africa to monitor this burn and provide extra commands if needed. But most of the tracking ships had been sold for scrap and the one remaining vessel was rusting in St Petersburg harbour. In the event, the fourth stage failed and the rocket and the Mars-96 probe remained in the parking orbit.

At the time, nobody knew it had failed. The probe's simple-minded autopilot never noticed the absence of the burn because a minute after the scheduled completion time, crossing the West African coast over the Côte d'Ivoire, it separated from the fourth stage and turned on its own small engine, as originally planned. This sent it into an elliptical orbit and towards its fiery demise.

None of this was yet known to the Russian trackers who had no contact with the spacecraft, nor to the American eavesdroppers who had seen a normal first orbit. Mars-96 finished its burn, obediently unfolded its solar arrays, and triumphantly broadcast its status: "insertion burn complete, spacecraft in interplanetary cruise configuration". At the main Russian space tracking facility at Yevpatoriya in the Crimea, the signal was received and for a few joyful moments the engineers thought that nothing was wrong.

But as the probe passed Yevpatoriya overhead, tracking data told the Russians the awful truth. The probe was trapped in an elliptical Earth orbit, with no possibility of an escape towards Mars. The mission was over. Only then began the desperate attempt to crash the space- craft safely. But within minutes it had passed beyond the range of the Crimean station, and no other Russian site ever heard from it again.

A few minutes later, the probe passed about 900 kilometres south of Kwajalein, but the Americans didn't even look for it, because they were expecting it to already be on its way to Mars. The probe soared out to a high point of perhaps 1500 kilometres over the Philippines. It crossed New Guinea, the northeast Australian coast to Brisbane, passed across Wellington, New Zealand, then out over the far southern Pacific until it approached the South American coast where the VanderBrinks were camping that night.

Meanwhile, the faulty fourth stage was still in its circular orbit with a small battery-powered beacon which the Russians were able to track. By the time American military space surveillance systems learnt that the probe had failed, the only object left in orbit was this fourth stage. Based on similar failures of Soviet interplanetary missions in the past, the US Space Command, which monitors all rocket launches, concluded that the probe and its plutonium were still attached to the rocket.

Alarm bells began ringing as the Americans suddenly realised that the plutonium was heading back towards Earth. As Sunday wore on, they calculated where the satellite would re-enter the atmosphere. By mid-afternoon Washington time, it looked as if Australia could be hit.

At this point, a full-blown Emergency Response Team had assembled in Washington, DC, and President Clinton personally telephoned the Australian Prime Minister John Howard to assure him of the Americans' full support in any search and recovery operation that might be necessary. But new tracking data soon showed the satellite overshooting Australia and briefly threatening New Zealand until the impact point moved far out into the southern Pacific Ocean. By Sunday evening, Washington time, the object had burnt up somewhere west of Chile, near Easter Island. The Americans concluded that whatever was left had ended up out of harms way on the ocean floor. The "emergency" was declared over and the specialists were sent home.

It was not until later that the Russians worked out what had really happened--and it was much later before the Americans found out. On Monday, 18 November, two days after the launch, the Russians held a sombre press conference in Moscow and revealed that the upper stage and the probe had separated at the very beginning of the flight. They admitted that they now believed that the object tracked on Sunday--the one that had caused the worldwide panic and warnings--was only the inert and plutonium-free fourth stage. As for the plutonium, all they could be sure about was that it had fallen to Earth somewhere along a track across the eastern Pacific, right across the middle of South America, and then into the mid-Atlantic. They could not be any more specific.

It wasn't until almost two weeks later that the US Space Command officially admitted its original error. It stated that a new analysis of infrared tracking data from spy satellites suggested where the probe had re-entered. The statement continued: "Any debris surviving the heat of this re-entry would have fallen over a 200-mile long portion of the Pacific Ocean, Chile, and Bolivia . . . [US Space Command] is not able to estimate what portion, if any, of the Mars-96 spacecraft might have survived re-entry . . . The Russians are in the best position to address the materials on board their spacecraft and whether any portion of the spacecraft might have survived."

White House spokesman David Johnson told reporters that this information was immediately passed on to the countries involved: "We informed the South American governments and the public as soon as we concluded that there was a possibility of something falling there," he stated, the week after the US Space Command's news release. However, this time there was no team of experts on standby, no emergency calls from the president and no offer of help.

Neither was there any help from the Russians. In Moscow, the head of the Russian Space Agency, Yuriy Koptev, met with ambassadors from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, to assure them that even though they were "adjacent to the crash site", there was no chance of any plutonium leakage. "There is no threat of radioactive contamination of the Pacific," he claimed.

The US Space Command's admission came as long-overdue reassurance to a lot of people in Chile. By chance, the probe had re-entered Earth's atmosphere after dark, when the sky happened to be completely clear. So thousands of people who were outside had seen the probe's final fall into the atmosphere. In the days that followed, many of these people tried to report their observations to the authorities. Yet the Chilean government, assured by Washington and Moscow that the probe had fallen into the ocean hundreds of kilometres away from their coastline, disregarded the stories and told the witnesses they had seen nothing important.

However, Luis Barrera also heard of the fireball and became suspicious. Barrera is directory of the Astronomy Institute at the Catholic University of the North in Antofagasta and immediately began to collect evidence. He visited each eye- witness, collected statements, visited the places where the sightings were made to take photographs and calculate the likely route of the fireball. He released his preliminary conclusions later in December. "Based on my studies of the reports, all confirm that the object exploded over the sea, and that the trajectory was southwest to northeast," he says.

NASA's studies of satellites entering the atmosphere show that they tend to break apart at about an altitude of 80 kilo- metres, while still moving almost horizontally at speeds of up to 7000 metres per second. At this speed, the surviving fragments could easily travel another 200 kilometres after a break- up. "The remains of the probe reached South America in the region of Tocopilla, Chile, in the direction of the city of Oruro, Bolivia," says Barrera.

Since Mars-96 carried four probes designed to enter the Martian atmosphere, they would almost certainly have survived entry into Earth's atmosphere. And the penetrators were designed to survive an impact with the ground.

The following March, under questioning from persistent private researchers, the US Space Command even acknowledged that it knew about the sighting reports from Chile. "We were aware of a number of eyewitness accounts of the re-entry event via the media several weeks after the re-entry occurred," wrote Major Stephen Boylan, Chief of the Media Division at the US Space Command in Colorado Springs. "Upon further analysis, we believe it is reasonable that the impact was in fact on land."

Given this conclusion, the lack of response is difficult to fathom. The US military has developed contingency plans for nuclear accidents. Depending on the level of contamination, these range from mass evacuations, mobilisations of thousands of shoulder-to-shoulder searchers, deployments of fleets of helicopters and ground sensors, and other responses ranging all the way down to putting up posters.

In January 1978, Kosmos 954, a nuclear-powered Soviet spy satellite, fell to Earth in northwestern Canada. Although this area is sparsely populated, several residents were accidentally exposed to radiation--none resulting in serious harm--before a major recovery effort succeeded in retrieving all the nuclear material.

But with Mars-96, the Americans and the Russians have opted to leave the plutonium where it lies. This may not be the wisest course of action. "It's a potentially hazardous material," says Otto Raabe, of the Institute of Toxicology and Environmental Health at the University of California in Davis.

Raabe concedes that the radiation from such a small amount of plutonium would not necessarily be dangerous. "Someone could receive some external radiation exposure from neutron and gamma radiation if close to the material, but it would not be at dangerous levels for such a small amount of plutonium." Radiation levels would probably be in the 0.01-0.02 milli-sieverts range. That would require keeping the battery next to the skin for a full year to accumulate the annual safe dosage for American radiation workers.

Although unlikely, this is a possibility. After the explosion of a rocket near the Baikonur cosmodrome in 1970, Soviet soldiers found a nuclear battery in the wreckage. Later, investigators looking for the battery discovered that the shivering soldiers had secretly kept it as a hand-warmer in their poorly heated guardhouse. In this case, the unit was spotted by one of the searchers and confiscated immediately.

In the Andes "altiplano", the high salt flats where it is bitterly cold even in mid-summer, one of the Mars-96 power units would seem like a perpetually warm "magic box". It would be of enormous value to anyone who found it. Each battery is the size of a 35-millimetre film cannister and contains about 12 grams of plutonium-238. The finder might even take it home and put it in his bed, or his children's bed--and would be careful not to tell anybody who might take it away.

The characteristics of the probable impact area make it likely that pieces of the probe will be found. Most of the land consists of high salt flats with little or no vegetation. It is lightly populated, but hunters, shepherds and prospectors wander around, as do army patrols. Life is hard enough in the Andes without the added risk of exposure to plutonium.

The biggest danger would be from plutonium dust, says Raabe. "For all practical purposes, the primary hazard from plutonium-238 dioxide occurs if it is somehow pulverised into very tiny particles--smaller than 5 micrometres in diameter--that are inhaled." This will not be easily achieved with plutonium pellets in Mars-96 which were formed at high tenperatures. "So it is not likely to pose a problem," Raabe says.

But one NASA doctor, who prefers to remain anonymous, says: "[Doing nothing] is a policy that places people at risk." These assurances rely on the assumption that the only threat to the containment of the plutonium is from the impact on landing. Far more plausible is the possibility that, if found, a probe would be deliberately broken open by the finder in search of valuable materials.

In the Brazilian city of Goiânia in 1987, four people died of radiation poisoning after breaking into an abandoned radiation therapy unit containing 100 grams of the highly radioactive element caesium-137. They used saws and sledgehammers to break open the machine's casing.

The most frightening scenario involves the plutonium from Mars-96 falling into the wrong hands. Although 200 grams of plutonium is far too little to be used in a nuclear weapon, it would be a valuable prize for terrorists. Used in a conventional weapon, the plutonium could be spread as dust over a major city.

The military specialists are aware of the danger. The only real threat of terrorist application is in deliberate contamination, says Colonel Dan Smith of the Center for Defense Information. But "that's enough of a use given the hype we've attached recently to the possibility of terrorists introducing nuclear materials into the US--it would drive governments around the bend if [terrorists] said they had found [Mars-96]".

In the recent past, governments have placed great emphasis on controlling plutonium. In 1994, the German police were very excited to confiscate 350 grams of plutonium from Russians trying to smuggle it through the country (This Week, 20 August, 1994, p 5). By this token, the 200 grams in the probe would seem more than enough to inspire attempts to retrieve it.

Somewhere between a policy of mass evacuations and the current "do-nothing and hope" approach, a balanced response to the Mars-96 plutonium has yet to be identified. Although the Russians are obliged by international law to pay for the search and cleanup, they cannot afford to, even if they were to admit that the Chilean witnesses really saw their falling spacecraft. As for the US, American officials are adamant: "It's not our vehicle," the then head of NASA space science, Wes Huntress, told New Scientist. "We have no responsibility for it."

Radiation experts in NASA's space programme say privately that while an active search would probably not be justifiable, a far more vigorous programme of local public warnings is needed. Notices would need to be posted widely, with full technical descriptions of the objects and with substantial cash rewards offered for information or for actual materials. Free medical screening would also be offered. Easy points of contact need to be established, either through military or police offices, or through a special-purpose recovery centre with full-time staff.

Barrera has long been saying the same thing. "We need international aid to investigate the most probable region, but the Chilean authorities have tried to minimise the problem by stating publicly there are no environmental risks or personal health risks." Barrera complains that nobody has even provided Chile with drawings of the space hardware. He says the longer it takes, the greater the risks become. "My fear is that we are going very slowly, very slowly" (New Scientist, 1999)

Title: A Fiery Goodbye To Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
Date: June 4, 2000
Source: Space Flight Now

Abstract: 
NASA officials and scientists around the world bid a fond farewell to the prized Compton Gamma Ray Observatory early Sunday as the 9-year old craft made a controlled crash back to Earth.

The 17-ton telescope plummeted into the atmosphere just after 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) after a week-long process of lowering its orbit through a course of lengthy thruster firings. Contact was lost at 2:10 a.m. EDT (0610 GMT) as controllers saw temperatures skyrocketing and indications the craft was tumbling.

"At this point, the spacecraft is probably breaking up," said Thomas Quinn, the reentry coordinator.

"We did expect to lose the solar arrays fairly early, they're going to pop off, some of the loose elements of the spacecraft are going to start to fall apart. As things heat up, the primary structure's going to start to melt and larger components are going to start to break off the spacecraft."

"This is a painful time for the scientists who have used the Compton Observatory for the last nine years as the spacecraft plunges into the atmosphere and flies apart," said project scientist Neil Gehrels.

Read our Mission Status Center for reports filed throughout the final hours of CGRO's life and the reentry. About six tons of debris was expected survive the searing plunge, splashing down in a predetermined stretch of the Pacific Ocean southeast of Hawaii at about 2:19 a.m. EDT (0619 GMT). Lighter pieces could take another 20 minutes to fall to the water surface.

Experts said six 1,800 pound aluminum I-beams, titanium parts and more than 5,000 bolts from CGRO would survive the reentry.

Observers aboard an Air Force surveillance aircraft in the area confirmed seeing the satellite breaking up and landing in the planned safety zone.

Officials said it would take a couple of days to determine the exact location and dimensions of the debris field.

CGRO's demise ends one of NASA's most successful science missions, which began when the observatory was launched into space aboard shuttle Atlantis on April 5, 1991.

Compton made 51,658 orbits around Earth.

Built by TRW, the $671 million craft was the second of NASA's Great Observatory family, along with sisters Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and the future Space Infared Telescope Facility.

"The end of an era, a discovery era, for gamma ray astronomy," Gehrels said. "This is the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory Mission Operations Room at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, signing off."

NASA ordered the controlled reentry in March after one of CGRO's three stabilizing gyroscopes failed. The space agency decided to deorbit the craft to protect public safety because an additional failure could have meant a dangerous crash like Skylab in 1979.

Officials calculated there was a 1-in-1,000 chance a person could be killed by CGRO if it reentered uncontrollably. The craft's orbital track ranged from 28.5 degrees to either side of the Equator.

"Our goal for the science community was a five-year mission to open the gamma ray universe to observation for the first time," Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for space science, told reporters Sunday morning. "We certainly have met our commitment to the science community. Compton has greatly exceeded its expectations with a 9-year mission."

"And a few hours ago, NASA met its commitment to the billions of humans who live under the Compton orbital path by safely reentering Compton into the Pacific."

During its tenure in space, CGRO studied violent and invisible gamma ray bursts, antimatter fountains and particle jets streaming millions of miles per hour away from black holes. The telescope detected more than 400 gamma ray sources, 10 times more than were previously known, and recorded over 2500 gamma ray bursts when only 300 had been detected before (Space Flight Now, 2000)

Title: 3.5-Ton Satellite Falling Back To Earth
Date: January 30, 2002
Source:
CNN

Abstract: A retired satellite with no onboard steering system should re-enter Earth's atmosphere within hours and leave a trail of debris in its wake, NASA cautioned Wednesday.

The defunct space telescope will tumble into the atmosphere Wednesday at about 11 p.m. ET, NASA scientists predicted.

Most of the doomed satellite will burn up in the atmosphere, but a handful of metal chunks could survive, ranging from four pounds to 100 pounds (1.8 kg to 45 kg), NASA space flight engineers said.

Fragments of the 3.5-ton orbiter could scatter along a trail extending up to 625 miles (1,000 km) long, somewhere in the middle latitudes on either side of the equator, according to NASA.

Predictions of when and where the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE) will drop from orbit remain sketchy because it will fall in an uncontrolled manner. As of Wednesday evening, EUVE was about 100 miles (160 km) above Earth, but is losing about 15.5 miles (25 km) of altitude each day.

It is expected to begin breaking up when it descends to within 50 miles (80 km), take four or five final 90-minute laps around Earth and then re-enter the atmosphere.

The re-entry window extends along the middle latitudes, from as far north as Orlando, Florida, and as far south as Brisbane, Australia.

The danger area covers parts of Florida, South and Central America, the Caribbean, much of Africa, South Asia and Indonesia. Major cities in the red zone include Miami, Florida; Mexico City, Mexico; and Bangkok, Thailand.

Trying to peg the bulls-eye on the planet has frustrated NASA. The space agency suggested early Wednesday that EUVE chunks would fall in the South Pacific. Hours later, it speculated that they would land east of South America.

"Based on the latest  predictions and the predicted debris field it is believed the heavier objects will fall harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean," reported the Web site of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which tracks almost 9,000 objects in orbit, declined to conjecture on where it would land.

"Quite frankly, they're predictions and there are so many variables we can't control," said Maj. Barry Venable, U.S. Space Command spokesman (CNN, 2002).

Title: Dead NASA Satellite Falls To Earth
Date: January 31, 2002
Source:
CASA

Abstract: Astronomers all over the world watched closely Wednesday night as a dead satellite entered the atmosphere and fell to the Earth's surface.

NASA said it would confirm the arrival of the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer on Earth within eight hours after splashdown, estimating that splashdown would be at 9:25 p.m. MST in the northeast section of the Persian Gulf.

Several faculty members at the University of Colorado were paying special attention to the falling satellite.

Professor Robert Culp of the aoerspace engineering sciences department at CU, an expert on "space junk," said there was little reason to worry that the remnants of the satellite might injure someone on the ground.

"The Earth's surface is about three-quarters water, so the chance of it hitting land is small," Culp said. "But if you think about how unpopulated some parts of the world are, the odds of it landing in a populated area are even smaller. The changes that the debris would hit a person are infinitesimal."

He said that when the Mir space station crashed last year, the only parts to hit land were small fragments that landed in an unpopulated area of Australia.

Professor James Green of the astrophysics department at CU helped to test and build the satellite, know as the EUVE, when he was a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. Green worked on the groundbreaking optical devices that the EUVE used to collect data.

"The technology used to detect extreme ultraviolet light was in its infancy when we started on the project," Green said. "The detectors we developed are sort of a space version of night-vision goggles that allow us to 'see' those frequencies of light."

Professor Michael Shull, an astrophysicist at CU, worked with data from the EUVE for several years.

"It opened up a brand-new wavelength band that no one had ever studied," Shull said. "I looked at information from lots of objects outside of the solar system that people didn't think we'd be able to see."

He said he hopes NASA will launch another satellite to study extreme ultraviolet waves sometime in the next decade.

The satellite weighed 7,000 pounds, and most of it was expected to fall apart and burn up in the atmosphere. NASA estimated that the largest single chunk of debris from the EUVE would weight about 100 pounds.

The satellite orbited the Earth over the tropics, so there was no chance for people in Colorado to see the falling craft in the sky.

The EUVE was the first satellite designed specifically to collect images of space objects in the extreme ultraviolet part of the spectrum. The craft was expected to last only three years when it was launched in June 1992, but it remained operational until January 2001.

Although NASA had initially hoped the EUVE would observe 24 nearby space objects, the satellite was able to see more than a thousand, including about 40 from outside the solar system (CASA, 2002)

Title: Missing: One Russian Spy Satellite
Date: February 15, 2005
Source:
MSNBC

Abstract: On the snowy steppes near Orenburg, southeast of the Ural Mountains in Siberia, teams of military search and rescue experts have spent the last month scanning the ground with metal detectors and probing the snow drifts for suspicious metal objects.

Their quest: Russia's most advanced spy satellite, which hasn't been seen since it came down to Earth on Jan. 9.

Midwinter cold, short periods of daylight, and blowing snow slowed the teams at every step, and now they appear to have given up.

No official announcement of the loss has been made. Observers speculate that's because Moscow is less worried about not finding the missing spy cameras and exposed film than about the potential catastrophe if agents of some other nation find and exploit the contents of the capsule.

But the greatest impact could be on arms control. Moscow uses imagery from such vehicles as a key ingredient in checking up on U.S. strategic weapons limited under various arms-control treaties. Such satellites, both American and Russian, are usually referred to in such treaties with the euphemism of “national technical means of verification."

The less a nation can verify arms control treaties, through satellites and other means, the less willing it may be to abide by them. And the less it can use spy satellites to verify the absence of aggressive developments and deployments in other countries, the more insecure it may feel.

The satellite loss "will certainly leave them wondering about open issues,” said Charles Vick, a Washington-based analyst for Global Security and an expert on the Russian space program.

"It will require them to rely on alternate sources and methods not always as reliable as imagery, until they can make up for the intelligence losses," he said.

Decline of Russia's Satellite Program 
When the satellite in question launched last Sept. 24, it was identified publicly as "Kosmos-2410." Informed sources in the Russian news media, however, particularly at the independent newspaper Kommersant, quickly identified the satellite as a Kobalt-class photo reconnaissance vehicle.

Developed in the 1980s to replace earlier generations of Russian spy satellites, Kobalts had better cameras, longer lifetimes in space and an entirely new structural design. During flights that lasted for months, they would stash exposed spy film into small canisters and fire them back to Earth one after the other. At the end of a mission, the three-ton main vehicle –- a tapered cylinder that bears an uncanny resemblance to the U.S. Gemini spacecraft -– returned to Earth, carrying more film and allowing the expensive lens and cameras to be reused.

During the big budget Soviet days, Kobalt satellites were launched six to eight times a year, spending months in orbit. Often there were overlapping missions, which made it harder for ground targets to schedule their activities so as to avoid the eyes in the sky.

In the wake of the Soviet breakup and Russia's subsequent financial problems, military space funding dried up. The factory is in Kuybyshev (renamed Samara) on the Volga River nearly went bankrupt. Launchings dropped to a fraction of previous rates.

The result: Russian spy satellites all but vanished from the skies. Where once several satellites orbited Earth simultaneously, by the late 1990s there were long periods -- sometimes more than a year -- between the times when a single spacecraft would orbit, alone for a few months.

Mission Cut Short 
The official mission of  “Kosmos-2410” was “to hold flight and design trials of a new-generation satellite”, with the purpose “to develop and confirm design solutions forming the basis for a wide range of military space vehicles that will perform various functions for Russia's orbital group up to the year 2015.” In other words, it represented a new-model space spy.

But Ivan Safranov, aerospace writer at the Moscow daily Kommersant, learned another story from his contacts in the space industry. “The vehicle that was sent into orbit is only a modernized version of the old Kobalt-series satellite,” he wrote a few days after its launch.

According to Safranov’s article, the Kobalts had to be modernized because the planned replacement vehicle –- codename ‘Zircon’ -– was too expensive. The old Kobalts themselves were so expensive that only one was launched per year. One of the main goals of the modernized Kobalt, Safranov wrote, was an increased lifetime from two to six months.

Both the official account and Safranov’s version agreed that the new satellite would be in space for a very long time. So observers in Russia and the West were shocked to read, on Jan. 12, that the satellite had already returned to Earth. The official statements from the Russian defense ministry, which operates the satellite, said merely that the satellite had ended its mission “after flight tests were carried out.”

The fact that the satellite had in fact come down was later confirmed by U.S. satellite watcher Jonathan McDowell. Writing in his online journal "Space Report," McDowell stated that the mission ended on Jan. 9,  after “about only half its expected lifetime."

The satellite fired its braking rockets at about 2 AM EST. and "is presumed to have landed" shortly thereafter, or near noon in that part of Russia, McDowell wrote.

Weather reports from the region put the visibility then at 3 miles, wind speed at 11 mph from the southwest with gusts to 26 mph, and local temperature just above freezing. The overcast conditions were by no means unusually difficult for spacecraft recovery operations, but something apparently went badly wrong.

Meanwhile, Russian officials denied that the mission had been ended prematurely. Russian Space Forces spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov told an Interfax reporter that the satellite had fulfilled its program of flight tests, and a “controlled descent” was carried out “according to schedule.”

"The 107 days planned by the test program is a perfectly adequate period of time for this class of satellite," the vice president of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, Ivan Meshcheryakov, told the TASS news agency.

So where is It? 
Amateur satellite trackers were able to determine that the return to Earth had indeed been deliberate. Kosmos-2410 had been in a stable orbit, well above the atmosphere. In order to drop out of orbit suddenly, it had to have fired a braking rocket. But what happened next –- controlled burn-up or intact-touchdown –- remained unknown.

Then, on Jan. 21, Kommersant’s Safronov revealed another space scoop: the satellite was supposed to have landed safely, but now it couldn’t be found. A special commission had already been formed to investigate the loss, he reported.

Safranov also reported that "one of the reasons for the satellite’s early landing could have been the malfunction of its flight control system," noting that the Kobalt was observed by U.S. space radar "making uncharacteristic maneuvers.” Although this control problem was supposedly overcome, a decision was made to cut short the mission.

“However, before the satellite came off the orbit in order to land at the base in the Orenburg steppe, two large fragments detached from it,” Safranov wrote. This unusual event was also observed on radar by the Americans, he said. He noted also that the satellite had already jettisoned two small film canisters that had come back safely in the previous few months.

As with all Russian spy satellites, he explained, Kosmos-2410 was equipped with explosive charges to destroy it if it threatened to come down outside of Russia. But this didn’t happen, so the presumption was that it was somewhere within Russia, perhaps far from the search area. Alternate theories include a failure of the parachute system that led to a high-speed impact that buried the vehicle, or failure of the heat shield that led to near-total disintegration.

Safranov’s report was confirmed by the Novosti press agency, whose military reporters have their own trusted sources within the Russian Ministry of Defense. But no other Russian news agency mentioned the story, aside from local papers in the recovery zone. There, the Orenburg daily Orenburzhye described how the search areas had been widened to include Abdulinsk, Bashkiriya, and Samara provinces, but without success.

Novosti’s source discounted the theory that the spacecraft had burned up. "The device's descent took place on a controlled basis,” he pointed out, “which to be sure made it possible to define the assumed landing area more or less precisely." Surviving fragments would have been found.

"On occasion,” Novosti’s expert continued, “it has taken several days even to find cosmonauts who have landed on Earth, although incomparably more efforts and resources are then involved in the search operation."

And Safranov pointed out that a test landing of a new recovery system five years ago in the same region at the same time of year wasn’t located for months and by then, local thieves had carted the main space vehicle away for its scrap metal (MSNBC, 2005)

Title: ArabSat Bites The Dust, Dashing Hopes
Date: March 24, 2006
Source:
MSNBC

Abstract: An off-course communications satellite that a private team wanted to rescue and resell has instead been steered to its destruction in Earth's atmosphere, according to the Defense Department and amateur satellite watchers.

The satellite, ArabSat 4A, was launched by a Russian rocket on Feb. 28 but wound up stuck in an orbit lower than its operational altitude.

ArabSat's situation was similar to that of Eight years ago, Asiasat 3, a communications satellite that was launched eight years ago toward a standard geosynchronous orbit over Earth's equator — only to be similarly stuck halfway due to a Russian rocket failure. In that earlier case, engineers came up with a bold scheme to steer Asiasat 3 deep into space and use the moon's gravity to change its orbit into a useful one.

This time, however, the hopes for space magic were dashed by the satellite's deliberate demise.

"We are disappointed," said Dennis Wingo of Orbital Recovery, whose group had coordinated the development of a rescue plan. "But we understand the operators' concerns."

Other participants in Wingo's group included Cesar Ocampo from the University of Texas at Austin, Mike Loucks from Space Exploration Engineering, John Carrico from Applied Defense Solutions Inc., Rex Ridenoure from Ecliptic Enterprises Corp.and veteran space engineer Gordon Woodcock.

Robotic Tug Nixed 
As soon as ArabSat's predicament became known a month ago, Wingo and the other experts  began working on plan similar to that used in 1998. They found that while there was not quite enough fuel on board for such a rescue mission, they could park the satellite in a convenient location where a robotic space tug, already under development by Orbital Recovery, could push it to a money-making orbit.

Neither the satellite's original owners nor the European insurance team — who assumed ownership once their client declared a "total loss" of the vehicle — turned out to be interested in attempting such a rescue. The satellite builder, EADS Astrium Aerospace in Germany, was told to send the destruct commands to the satellite on Thursday.

Maj. Jeff Jones, a spokesman for the U.S. Strategic Command, told MSNBC.com that ArabSat re-entered the atmosphere over the South Pacific at 9:07 p.m. ET Thursday. "Re-entry was confirmed by infrared sensors," he said.

Even before Jones' report, the absence of the satellite was noted by an informal network of highly skilled amateur satellite watchers who had been monitoring ArabSat since its launch. Texas observers Mike McCants and Ed Cannon reported that they missed spotting ArabSat under conditions that should have yielded a clear sighting.

Variety of Proposals 
During the month that ArabSat 4A circled Earth in its intermediate orbit, planners on Earth came up with a variety of proposals for salvaging a useful mission even if it could not reach the intended geosynchronous orbit. Since the spacecraft contained a significant amount of rocket fuel, it had more than enough to reach the moon, or even head for interplanetary space.

The problem was, as a communications satellite it had no scientific instrumentation, and its communication system was not designed for lunar distances. Nevertheless, imaginative orbital designers studied flight paths that would place the satellite into lunar orbit — or even into one of the "gravity-neutral zones" in the Earth-moon system. One orbit that would have ranged behind the moon was suggested for a stationkeeping demonstration, to obtain experience in operating a communications relay to support future human missions to the moon.

ArabSat was also considered for a close flyby over the lunar surface, where its radio transmitter could function as a makeshift radar sounder to seek hints of ice in the bottoms of lunar polar craters. Alternately, the 3-ton spacecraft could have been aimed to impact directly inside one of the suspect craters, allowing other spacecraft to look for water vapor in the ejected debris.

None of these missions interested the satellite owners, however, and their urgent cash-flow requirements frustrated several attempts to obtain private transition funding for operations.

Would-be rescuer Wingo was philosophical: "Every time a satellite is left in a stranded orbit," he told MSNBC.com, "an opportunity is lost to save it" for its original purpose or an alternate aim.

Perhaps, he speculated, the next time a communications satellite is stranded — and there will be a next time — a well-defined menu of alternate missions and alternate emergency funding will be available (MSNBC, 2006).

Title: Chilean Airliner Narrowly Misses Flaming Pieces Of Falling Satellite
Date: March 28, 2007
Source:
Fox News

Abstract: Pilots of a Chilean commercial aircraft approaching the Auckland airport in New Zealand spotted flaming pieces of a satellite falling past their jet, the
LAN Chile airline reported Wednesday.

The airline said in a brief communique that the pilot, who was not identified, "made visual contact with incandescent fragments several kilometers away" on Monday.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on its Web site that pieces of a Russian satellite had narrowly missed the jet. It quoted New Zealand aviation authorities saying that they had been warned by Russian officials two weeks ago that the satellite would be entering the atmosphere, but that the Russians had apparently miscalculated the entry time.

The Airbus 340 had just entered New Zealand air space when the space debris was spotted and landed shortly afterward at the Auckland airport. It later continued on to its final destination in Sydney, Australia.

The airline said it reported the incident to authorities in Chile and New Zealand.

LAN said it would have no further comment (Fox News, 2007)

Title: U.S. Downplays Threat From Falling Satellite
Date: January 28, 2008
Source:
MSNBC

Abstract: A disabled U.S. spy satellite is likely to break into small pieces when it falls to Earth within weeks, posing little danger to humans, U.S. government officials said Monday.

Most, if any, debris that survives the intense heat of re-entry would likely fall into the oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. But he said the U.S. government was monitoring the satellite’s descent from orbit and examining different options to “mitigate any damage.”

The U.S. military could potentially use a missile to destroy the minivan-sized satellite in space, but one senior U.S. defense official told Reuters that was unlikely for several reasons, including concern about creating space debris, as China did when it shot down one of its satellites last year.

“Given that 75 percent of the Earth is covered in water and much of the land is uninhabited, the likely percentage of this satellite or any debris falling into a populated area is very small,” Johndroe said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said more than 17,000 human-made objects have re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the past 50 years without major incident.

“We are monitoring it ... we take our obligations seriously with respect to the use of space,” Whitman said, noting the satellite was expected to return to Earth “over the next several weeks ... late February, early March.”

Never became Operational
The satellite is a classified National Reconnaissance Office spacecraft launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in 2006, four senior U.S. officials who asked not to be named told Reuters.

The satellite, known as L-21, has been out of touch since shortly after reaching its low-Earth orbit. Built by Lockheed Martin at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, the satellite has fallen more than 43 miles (70 kilometers) to an orbit at around 174 miles (280 kilometers) above Earth. U.S. and European astronomers estimate it is dropping at an accelerating rate of 5 miles (8 kilometers) a day.

Because the satellite never became operational, it has toxic rocket fuel on board that would have been used to maneuver the satellite in space. It could pose a danger if the fuel tank does not explode upon re-entry.

Thousands of space objects fall to Earth each year, but they generally scatter over a huge area and there have never been any reported injuries, two U.S. officials said.

Occasionally, bigger objects survive, including a 563-pound (255-kilogram) stainless-steel fuel tank from a Delta 2 rocket that landed 50 yards (meters) from a farmer’s home in Texas in 1997.

This L-21 satellite is much smaller, and more likely to burn up as it enters the atmosphere, scientists said.

The U.S. military has no weapon designed to shoot down a satellite, but it demonstrated the ability to do that in the mid-1980s, and could cobble together a plan to do so again fairly quickly, said the senior defense official.

Such a move appears unlikely, given global dismay about China’s use of a missile to destroy a much bigger satellite at a higher orbit, which scattered nearly 1,000 pieces of debris throughout space, the official said.

Not the First Time
The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a NASA spacecraft was Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station that fell from orbit in 1979. Its debris dropped harmlessly into the Indian Ocean and across a remote section of western Australia.

In 2000, NASA engineers successfully directed a safe de-orbit of the 17-ton Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, using rockets aboard the satellite to bring it down in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.

In 2002, officials believe debris from a 3.5-ton science satellite smacked into Earth's atmosphere and rained down over the Persian Gulf, a few thousand miles from where they first predicted it would plummet (MSNBC, 2008).

Title: U.S. Downplays Threat From Falling Satellite
Date: January 28, 2008
Source:
MSNBC

Abstract: A disabled U.S. spy satellite is likely to break into small pieces when it falls to Earth within weeks, posing little danger to humans, U.S. government officials said Monday.

Most, if any, debris that survives the intense heat of re-entry would likely fall into the oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. But he said the U.S. government was monitoring the satellite’s descent from orbit and examining different options to “mitigate any damage.”

The U.S. military could potentially use a missile to destroy the minivan-sized satellite in space, but one senior U.S. defense official told Reuters that was unlikely for several reasons, including concern about creating space debris, as China did when it shot down one of its satellites last year.

“Given that 75 percent of the Earth is covered in water and much of the land is uninhabited, the likely percentage of this satellite or any debris falling into a populated area is very small,” Johndroe said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said more than 17,000 human-made objects have re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the past 50 years without major incident.

“We are monitoring it ... we take our obligations seriously with respect to the use of space,” Whitman said, noting the satellite was expected to return to Earth “over the next several weeks ... late February, early March.”

Never became Operational 
The satellite is a classified National Reconnaissance Office spacecraft launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in 2006, four senior U.S. officials who asked not to be named told Reuters.

The satellite, known as L-21, has been out of touch since shortly after reaching its low-Earth orbit. Built by Lockheed Martin at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, the satellite has fallen more than 43 miles (70 kilometers) to an orbit at around 174 miles (280 kilometers) above Earth. U.S. and European astronomers estimate it is dropping at an accelerating rate of 5 miles (8 kilometers) a day.

Because the satellite never became operational, it has toxic rocket fuel on board that would have been used to maneuver the satellite in space. It could pose a danger if the fuel tank does not explode upon re-entry.

Thousands of space objects fall to Earth each year, but they generally scatter over a huge area and there have never been any reported injuries, two U.S. officials said.

Occasionally, bigger objects survive, including a 563-pound (255-kilogram) stainless-steel fuel tank from a Delta 2 rocket that landed 50 yards (meters) from a farmer’s home in Texas in 1997.

This L-21 satellite is much smaller, and more likely to burn up as it enters the atmosphere, scientists said.

The U.S. military has no weapon designed to shoot down a satellite, but it demonstrated the ability to do that in the mid-1980s, and could cobble together a plan to do so again fairly quickly, said the senior defense official.

Such a move appears unlikely, given global dismay about China’s use of a missile to destroy a much bigger satellite at a higher orbit, which scattered nearly 1,000 pieces of debris throughout space, the official said.

Not the First Time 
The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a NASA spacecraft was Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station that fell from orbit in 1979. Its debris dropped harmlessly into the Indian Ocean and across a remote section of western Australia.

In 2000, NASA engineers successfully directed a safe de-orbit of the 17-ton Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, using rockets aboard the satellite to bring it down in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean.

In 2002, officials believe debris from a 3.5-ton science satellite smacked into Earth's atmosphere and rained down over the Persian Gulf, a few thousand miles from where they first predicted it would plummet (MSNBC, 2008)

Title: Falling Spy Sat: Don’t Panic
Date: January 29, 2008
Source:
Wired

Abstract: "Robert Connell" is the pseudonym for a former Air Force office who spent in nearly a decade in the service’s space and missile corps.  This is his first post for DANGER ROOM.

Everyone is freaking out, over this "spy satellite" that’s re-entering the atmosphere.  But the chances of there being any danger to people is pretty darn minuscule.  178 tracked objects re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere last year.  Of those, 27 were actual satellite payloads. 

The vast, vast majority of the time, these objects breakup in the atmosphere from the heat of re-entry and only very small fragments ever reach the ground.  This video was taken last year of a Russian rocket body that re-entered over the Denver area and you can clearly see that what was once a solid cylinder is now just a mass of tiny pieces.

However, occasionally intact pieces do survive re-entry and are found. 

The worst-case scenario is one where an object with radioactive materials re-enters.  This happened back in January 1978 when the Russian COSMOS 954 satellite re-entered over Canada and left a radioactive debris field strewn across a (thankfully) sparsely populated area.  But since then, a whole set of procedures have been put in place to cope with threats from above.

For everyone one of these objects, the military’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) predicts where it will impact the ground and notifies military leadership and in turn civilian leadership.  If it will impact over the United States or Canada, NORAD is notified along with FEMA and its Canadian equivalent.  Risks are assessed and emergency plans are made if there is even the slightest chance of danger.

The Center also produces re-entry warnings for objects.  These warnings, also called TIP Messages (Trajectory and Impact
Prediction), start at about 4 days prior to impact and occur at set intervals.  These are posted on the 
same website as the normal catalog data, and can be downloaded and viewed by anyone.
You do need an account to get access but it is free and simple and anyone can do it.

There are a couple of caveats.  First, only those objects which are large enough to be tracked by the US military’s network of sensors have re-entry predictions.  Usually this means objects bigger than 10 cm (about the size of a softball).  Second, there are some objects that, as far as the US
gov’t is concerned, don’t exist in the satellite catalog and therefore don’t have re-entry notifications.  This object that everyone is buzzing about happens to be one of those.  Of course, anything the size of a school bus in low Earth orbit can be seen by anyone with a backyard telescope and some patience.  Amateurs track many of the "black objects" and sometimes can produce locations.  The best source of info is the “See-Sat 
mailing list”.

Here’s a fun fact – the military operators that track and produce TIPs on all the normal space objects aren’t allowed to know where the "spy satellites" are.  They actually know less than the amateurs.
The tracking and re-entry prediction for black satellites is handled by a completely separate unit.  So don’t go blaming the military guys about keeping this stuff secret, point the finger at the NRO people who insist on keeping secrets on objects that everyone can plainly see.  The ironic part is that by keeping it a secret, everyone in the media (and every arm-chair"analyst)" is able to make up whatever they want about the object and thus it gets more well known than if it was a standard unclassified object.

Now the question is, should there be concern over this particular object?  The answer is maybe, but probably not.  Yes, it is re-entering in an uncontrolled manner when normally this type of satellite would be intentionally destroyed over the ocean far from prying eyes.  The only reason that this particular object (and for that matter any satellite) would pose significant threat would be if it contained a radioactive power supply, such as the Snap series.  There has been some discussion on the amateur mailing list over whether or not this satellite has such a power supply.  Some have indicated that since solar panels can’t be seen it might indeed use one.  Others have responded that since the satellite went into safe mode shortly after launch, the solar panels might not have deployed and that could be the reason for their absence.  And in either case, there is evidence

(and significant incentive) for the US to have secured any radioactive material within a protective shell that could survive re-entry, if only to keep the materials from falling into the wrong hands.

We can all be assured that the amateur observers will be tracking this object over the rest of its orbital life and providing the best indicators (and analysis) of when and where it might re-enter.  The really sad part of this story is that the US government is withholding information on a potentially dangerous object in the name of national security, but that same information is readily available to anyone with a telescope, a trained mind, and a starry night to collect for themselves (Wired, 2008)

Title: FAA Warns Of Possible Falling Satellite Debris
Date: February 15, 2009
Source:
SpaceFlightNow

Abstract: The Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning to pilots and aircrews Saturday advising them to be on the lookout for possible "re-entry of satellite debris," presumably from an unprecedented satellite collision in space last week. Today, there were reports in Texas of at least one fireball and sounds of an explosion - possibly a sonic boom - but an FAA spokesman said it was not yet known whether the sightings involved satellite debris and if so, whether it came from either destroyed spacecraft.

YouTube Video

It's also possible the fireball was the result of a large meteor burning up in the atmosphere.

"Late this morning, people started reporting to law enforcement there was a quote-unquote fireball and some people reported an explosion, which we suspect was probably a sonic boom," said Roland Herwig, a spokesman for the FAA's Southwest Region. "We had put out, the FAA had put out a notice to airmen, called a NOTAM, yesterday morning for pilots, for air crews to be on the lookout for space debris re-entering and and if they see anything to let the FAA know the location, the direction of travel, anything else they could about that. The notice to airmen says we suspect, we don't know, that this debris is from the two satellites that collided last week."

The actual NOTAM, however, does not mention the space collision Tuesday between a commercial Iridium telephone satellite and a defunct Russian communications station known as Cosmos 2251.

In any case, Herwig told reporters today there was no immediate "evidence of damage, no evidence of injuries, no evidence of anyone yet finding a chunk of satellite."

"We told the sheriff's departments, police departments, that people should be cautious around any debris that they do find," he said in a 5:30 p.m. EST teleconference. "But we have not gotten feedback on any debris. Nor have any aircrews reported anything."

He said until someone recovers actual debris, it may be impossible to tell whether the sightings involved wreckage from the Iridium-Cosmos crash, some other satellite or debris from a meteor. He said the Limestone County sheriff's office reported contact from someone who claimed to have a picture of the fireball and a smoke trail and a Plano, Texas, police cruiser may have capture images from a dashboard camera.

The collision between the Iridium-33 satellite and Cosmos 2251 occurred over northern Siberia at an altitude of about 490 miles around noon Tuesday. It was the first such collision in space history. An analysis of the orbits by Analytical Graphics Inc. concluded the spacecraft crashed into each other at some 15,000 mph, creating two large clouds of debris that continued along each spacecraft's orbital track.

The Cosmos ground track did not appear to cross the United States earlier today, but the Iridium's orbit did, according to widely available satellite tracking software. Whether any debris from the relatively small, presumably shredded satellite could have re-entered from the initially high altitude and caused the sort of fireball reported in Texas was not known.

Here is the NOTAM that was posted Saturday by the FAA:

"FDC 9/5902 FDC .. SPECIAL NOTICE .. EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. AIRCRAFT ARE ADVISED THAT A POTENTIAL HAZARD MAY OCCUR DUE TO REENTRY OF SATELLITE DEBRIS INTO THE EARTHS ATMOSPHERE. FURTHER NOTAMS WILL BE ISSUED IF MORE INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE. IN THE INTEREST OF FLIGHT SAFETY, IT IS CRITICAL THAT ALL PILOTS/FLIGHT CREW MEMBERS REPORT ANY OBSERVED FALLING SPACE DEBRIS TO THE APPROPRIATE ATC FACILITY TO INCLUDE POSITION, ALTITUDE, TIME, AND DIRECTION OF DEBRIS OBSERVED."

Herwig said he did not know what prompted the NOTAM or whether it originated with U.S. Strategic Command, which tracks satellites and space debris, or some other organization.

"It's usually something that's passed on to us by law enforcement or some other agency to create a notice," he said. "The notice is open ended, it says 'effective immediately until further notice, a potential hazard may occur due to re-entry of satellite debris'" (SpaceFlightNow, 2009)

Title: When Satellites Fall: On The Trails Of Cosmos 954 And USA 193
Date: June 12, 2009
Source:
Flow

Abstract: During the past 50 years approximately 17,000 human-made objects have re-entered the earth’s atmosphere. Most of these objects incinerate as they tumble toward the planet, but many fragments fall upon the earth. On a few occasions rogue satellites have fallen, raising concerns about public safety and posing threats to the natural environment. In this essay I discuss two incidents when satellites that were falling back to earth became high-profile media events. The first was a Soviet radar satellite, Cosmos954, in 1978 and the second a US spy satellite, USA193, in 2008. These events are significant moments for media studies for several reasons. First, they draw attention to publicly-funded secret satellites that have historically been used to image the earth and manage geopolitical tensions. Second, they reveal the deeply intertwined relation of satellite media to issues of global security and serve as a reminder, as Jim Schwoch has shown, that the greatest global communication technologies emerged alongside the most dangerous technologies of global destruction.
1 Finally, these moments provide an opportunity to contemplate the high costs of satellite failure, which result not only in communication breakdowns and huge financial losses, but can have detrimental effects on the environment as well.

Cosmos 954
On January 24, 1978 a Soviet radar satellite, known as Cosmos 954, plummeted into the Great Slave Lake area of the Northern Territories in Canada (roughly the same area where the television show
Ice Road Truckers is now shot). The satellite was launched from a facility in Kazakhstan on September 18, 1977 and by October 29, 1977 NORAD monitors revealed that Cosmos 954 was out of orbit and predicted it would re-enter the earth’s atmosphere sometime in April 1978. The primary concern about Cosmos 954’s tumble back to earth was the nuclear reactor it had on board. Because the satellite was carrying 110 pounds of enriched uranium, some officials predicted Cosmos 954’s crash could result in the “worst nuclear contamination since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”2 Since US and Canadian officials were uncertain where Cosmos 954 would land, they decided not to issue a public announcement detailing the nuclear concern. When it became clear, however, that Cosmos 954 would fall months earlier than predicted, the US State Department on January 18, 1978 relayed a secret message to its NATO allies and to Australia, Japan and New Zealand informing state diplomats about the matter.

Fragment of Cosmos 954
On January 24, 1978 the world’s news agencies sent reporters to the icy tundra near Yellowknife to investigate the “killer satellite.” Journalists reported on the massive size of the debris field, the fragments that had been recovered, the nature of the retrieval mission and the Canadian government’s attempts to communicate with Inuit communities in the vicinity of the crash whose water and food supplies were in danger of exposure to radiation. After the satellite fell, the US Departments of Energy and Defense banded together with Canadian agencies to mount a five-month retrieval mission called Operation Morning Light that utilized U2 and KC-135 aircraft to help locate concentrations of radioactive particulate and recover the satellite’s fragments. Since the Soviets were tight-lipped about the satellite’s composition, some suggest the recovery effort was as much about investigating the current state of Soviet satellite technology as it was about retrieving radioactive debris.

Operation Morning Light mission logo (Save Photo)

In the months following the crash the Canadian government sought compensation from the Soviet Union in the amount of $3 million (Canadian) under the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage caused by Space Objects. This international law holds satellite owners liable for the damages caused when space objects fall back to earth. The Soviets fought this case claiming that Cosmos 954 had broken up by the time it fell to earth and thus could no longer be recognized as a “satellite” when it landed in the Northwest Territories. The fall of Cosmos 954 not only established an occasion to test satellite liability law, but Operation Morning Light became a prototype for future satellite recovery missions.

USA 193
Almost exactly thirty years after Cosmos 954 fell, another satellite drifted out of orbit and began to move toward Earth. USA 193 was a classified spy satellite (also known as NROL-21) that had been launched on December 14, 2006 from Vandenberg Air Force base in California. Communication with the satellite failed shortly after its launch. Rather than allow USA 193 to fall to the earth’s surface, the US government devised an elaborate scheme to intercept and destroy it with an SM-3 missile. US officials expressed concerns about the 1000-pound tank of hydrazine fuel on board the satellite and claimed it could form into a toxic cloud the size of two football fields if the satellite were to crash and pose a serious public health risk. Many were skeptical of this claim and speculated instead that the US did not want this classified satellite to fall into foreign hands because future US spysat fleets were slated to use similar technologies. Still others interpreted the US satellite shoot-down as a geopolitical showdown in which the US set out to demonstrate its anti-satellite (ASAT) missile capabilities following a controversial and high-profile test the Chinese had conducted in 2007.

Despite the various speculations, on Feb 20, 2008 a missile launched from the US Navy vessel USS Lake Erie blasted into USA193 as it passed over an area west of the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Like Cosmos 954’s crash into the Northwest Territories, the interception of USA 193 became a media event as news agencies emphasized the risky nature of the satellite shoot-down, used Google Earth to predict and map where the fragments would land, and evaluated public health risks. After the strike, the US Defense Department held a press conference and released a video showing the missile strike USA 193 as it turned into an incandescent gaseous blob. Amateur satellite trackers in different parts of the world had also been tracking and photographing the secret satellite (along with many others) since its 2006 deployment.

Cosmos 954 and USA 193 are just two of hundreds of satellites that have failed since the late 1950s. These failures, I want to suggest, are symptomatic of the kind of dandelion capitalism that underpins the satellite economy. Just as fast as the capital to manufacture, launch and operate a satellite accumulates and the technology takes shape, it can be blown away in a blinding flash, its fragments either floating into the oblivion of space or darting cataclysmically toward the earth. The satellite economy has long been structured around such failures, and, as a result, has one of the most complex and expensive insurance industries on the planet. Insurance premiums are typically a satellite operator’s second largest cost. For any given satellite there can be 10-15 large insurers and 20-30 smaller companies involved in issuing policies for different phases of the satellite’s development, transport, launch and in-orbit operation. In 2003 a basic premium for a satellite worth $250 million cost between $40-55 million

While much information about USA 193 remains classified, it is known that the satellite was part of a satellite design scheme called Future Imagery Architecture, involving Boeing and Lockheed Martin, for which the US government paid over $10 billion.5 The shootdown operation for USA 193 alone cost US taxpayers $40-60 million.6 Capitalism operates in the satellite economy such that extremely expensive machines are made and installed in orbit without public knowledge only to be spectacularly blown away and become “total losses” right before our eyes. Given such scenarios the study of satellite failures, finances and futures remains a vital path for further investigation (Flow, 2009)

Title: Mexican 'Meteorite' Was Falling Russian Satellite
Date: February 12, 2010
Source:
Herald Sun

Abstract: A LOUD explosion and ball of fire that people in central Mexico reported seeing in the sky was actually a Russian satellite plunging back to earth, experts said.

"We think it was the space wreckage of a Russian satellite that was catalogued by the Department of Defense of the United States and which we knew could pass over Mexican territory," engineer Fernando de la Peno said.

Mr De la Peno is also a chief proponent of establishing a Mexican space agency.

Reports of a large meteorite reached Mexican media and police on Wednesday from the Hidalgo and Puebla states.

Many said they felt the ground shake with the blast and some reported seeing a huge crater on the ground blown out by the fiery object.

But nothing was found after a through search of the area yesterday.

Mr De la Pena said the space debris was likely the Cosmos 2421 reconnaissance satellite launched by the Russian Navy in June 2006 that malfunctioned and broke apart into 15 pieces two years later (Herald Sun, 2010).

Title: Worst Space Debris Events Of All Time
Date: September 23, 2011
Source:
Space.com

Abstract: Growing Threat of Space Debris
The space around Earth is a crowded space packed with nearly 22,000 spent rocket stages, dead or dying satellites and countless crumbs of human-made orbital flotsam. An average of one object has reentered Earth's atmosphere every day. Here are 10 of the most memorable manmade things that have rained down on us.

10. Satellite Shootdown
The U.S. Navy intercepted its defunct spy satellite USA-193 on Feb. 20, 2008, sending a 
trail of debris that some amateur astronomers reported falling over the northwestern United States and Canada. Department of Defense officials said they hadn't recovered any debris larger than a football.

9. Noggin' Knocker
A woman in Turley, Oklahoma, got a noggin-knock in January 1997 when she was struck with a lightweight fragment of charred woven material. She was not injured. The sky junk was identified as debris from a Delta 2 booster, which reentered the Earth's atmosphere on Jan. 22, 1997. Other debris from that booster included a steel propellant tank and a titanium pressure sphere.

8. Mystery Ball
Several mysterious spheres turned up in Australia in the 1960s, with some speculating these balls could be connected with UFO phenomenon. One such titanium sphere was spotted in Merkanooka, Western Australia. Dubbed the Merkanooka ball, the metal sphere was later identified as a tank used for drinking water in the Gemini V spacecraft, which was launched on Aug. 21, 1965, and reentered the atmosphere and splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 29 that year.

7. Toxic Touchdown
A secret Soviet-navy satellite called Cosmos 954, which was launched on Sept. 18, 1977, spiraled out of control. The spy radar antennas each sported a compact nuclear reactor, making the reentry one of the most frightening to date for people on the ground. On Jan. 24, 1978, Cosmos 954 reentered over Canada and shed debris across the frozen ground of the Canadian Arctic. Following the crash, the U.S. and Canada conducted overflights of the area and associated cleanup efforts.

6. Desert Dropdown
On Jan. 21, 2001, a Delta 2 third stage, known as a PAM-D (Payload Assist Module-Delta), reentered the atmosphere over the Middle East. Its titanium motor casing, weighing about 154 pounds (70 kilograms), slammed down in Saudi Arabia, while a titanium pressurant tank landed near Seguin, Texas, and the main propellant tank plunked down near Georgetown, Texas.

5. Spare Space Parts
In May 1966, spacecraft debris was spotted in the Rio Negro District of Brazil. The metal parts were identified as coming from a stage of the Saturn development test (SA-5) that launched in 1964 and which reentered the atmosphere on April 30, 1966. The litter included a piece of lightweight metal, an oval-shaped chunk of metal, a black beehive-shaped structure and four pieces of fragile wire

4. Columbia Debris
On Feb. 1, 2003, during its return to Earth, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry, killing seven astronauts. The catastrophic, lethal accident shed thousands of pieces of debris across a 28,000 square mile (72,520 square kilometers) area in eastern Texas and western Louisiana. More than 80,000 recovered pieces were stored for follow-up research.

3. Sonic Snow
After completing 51,658 orbits around Earth, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory was intentionally deorbited due to a crippled gyroscope on June 4, 2000. As the spacecraft tumbled through Earth's atmosphere, its solar panels and antennas were thought to pop off first, while other parts likely melted. About 13,227 pounds (6,000 kilograms) of debris from the observatory splashed down into the Pacific Ocean southeast of Hawaii.

2. Russian Heavyweight
In the world of space litter, the heavyweight champ would have to be Mir, heftier in its day than any object (except the moon) to orbit Earth. The 15-year-old Russian space station began its suicidal nosedive on March 23, 2001, as it reentered Earth's atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean near Fiji. Though most of the station, weighing 286,600 pounds (130,000 kilograms), burned up in the atmosphere, about 1,500 fragments reached Earth's surface. Beachgoers in Nadi, Fiji, snapped photos of blazing bits of Mir debris and there were reports of sonic booms caused by heavy debris.

1. Skylab Plummet
Weighing in at 77 tons (70,000 kilograms), the first and only solely-U.S. space station Skylab launched into orbit on May 14, 1973. Its orbiting operations came to a premature end on July 11, 1979, when Skylab plummeted through the atmosphere, sending chunks of debris raining down over an area stretching from the Southeastern Indian Ocean across a sparsely populated section of Western Australia (Space.com, 2012)

Title: Satellite Debris Could Hit U.S.
Date: September 24, 2011
Source:
Wall Street Journal

Abstract: NASA on Friday warned there was still a small chance that remnants of a falling research satellite could end up in parts of the U.S., though scientists weren't able to predict the precise trajectory or exactly when the space junk would reach the ground.

The difficulty of pinpointing where the parts will land highlights broader international concerns about tracking more than 20,000 pieces of orbiting space debris, some no larger than a football. Experts say the debris poses a potential threat to commercial and military satellites, as well as to the international space station.

The anticipated breakup of the defunct, 13,000-pound NASA climate satellite, set to tumble uncontrolled through the atmosphere after 20 years of operation, could result in dozens of pieces hitting the Earth by early Saturday. Most pieces are expected to burn up as they streak through the atmosphere, though experts at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have indicated that about two dozen could survive re-entry, with the largest possibly weighing hundreds of pounds.

After days of being unable to say precisely where the shower of parts is likely to land, on Friday NASA's website said there was "a low probability" of pieces ending up in North America. Partly because solar flares have caused disruptions in the atmosphere, the agency said it couldn't predict the exact path or rule out the possibility of parts hitting the U.S. Such a scenario, according to NASA, "cannot be discounted."

Late Friday, NASA put out a statement indicating that the satellite's orbit was taking it as close as 90 miles to the Earth and re-entry was expected around midnight or early Saturday Eastern Daylight Time. During that stretch, according to the agency, the satellite is expected to pass over Canada, Africa and vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, While there was still a chance of some debris hitting Washington state, NASA called the overall risk to public safety "very remote."

The risks posed by orbiting debris, a topic that increasingly preoccupies some military and aerospace experts, are significantly greater. The debris is essentially the residue of hundreds of rocket launches, exploration missions and other man-made objects left circling Earth.

With an estimated 750 or more satellites currently in orbit—and many more nations now seeking to launch satellites than ever before—overall collision hazards are expected to increase. Experts worry the threats are particularly significant around some widely used orbital locations. Astronauts aboard the international space station periodically are forced to take emergency steps to deal with threats.

Two years ago, a drifting and powerless Russian satellite smashed into and destroyed a commercial satellite operated by Iridium Communications Inc., IRDM +1.18% a provider of phone and data services based in McLean, Va. The collision occurred because Pentagon radar sites on the ground and U.S. government assets in space weren't closely tracking the merging courses of the two satellites. At the time, top Air Force officials said the U.S. had the capability of closely tracking and issuing pre-collision warnings for only a couple of hundred pieces of orbiting debris.

Since then, both military and commercial satellite operators have put more resources into tracking space debris. Military and corporate experts have shared information about the condition and orbits of satellites; some manufacturers have recommended installing additional sensors on satellites to warn of potential threats; and there has been enhanced international cooperation to avoid in-orbit surprises.

The National Research Council, which released a report on the issue of orbital debris earlier this month, said some computer models indicate the amount of junk floating in space "has reached a tipping point...raising the risk of spacecraft failures.''

As a result, diplomats and military officials from the U.S. and many other countries have been discussing ways to remove or alleviate the dangers of space junk. Various countries also have been formulating new rules or guidelines to assure that before satellites completely lose power and no longer can be controlled, operators will abide by plans to park them in out-of-the-way orbits or safely bring them back to earth (Wall Street Journal, 2011)

Title: Falling Satellite ROSAT Expected To Hit Earth On Weekend
Date: October 21, 2011
Source: Huffington Post

Abstract: German scientists say they expect pieces of a defunct satellite hurtling toward the atmosphere to hit Earth this weekend.

Andreas Schuetz, a spokesman for the German Aerospace Center, said Friday the best estimate is still that the ROSAT scientific research satellite will impact sometime Saturday or Sunday.

The center says parts of the minivan-sized satellite will burn up during re-entry but up to 30 fragments weighing a total of 1.87 tons (1.7 metric tons) could crash into the Earth with a speed of up to 280 mph (450 kph).

The satellite orbits the Earth every 90 minutes and scientists can only say that it could hit Earth anywhere along its path, between 53-degrees north and 53-degrees south – a vast swath of territory that includes much of the planet outside the poles (Huffington Post, 2011)

Title: "Space Junk 3D" Launches In Theaters As Russian Satellite Plummets To Earth
Date: January 4, 2012
Source:
PR Newswire

Abstract: ust as the crippled Russian satellite, Phobos-Grunt, threatens to fall from our sky, the film "Space Junk 3D" will open in IMAX® and other giant screen theaters in both 2D and 3D, beginning January 13th. The movie is the first to explore the exponentially expanding ring of manmade debris that threatens the safety of our planet's orbits.

"After half a century of space exploration we're now suddenly faced with what has long been a staple of science fiction—an orbiting junkyard of cast-off space debris," explains Academy Award® Nominee Tom Wilkinson, who narrates the film.

Harnessing the magical imagery of 3D Giant Screen, Full Dome and Digital Cinema. Director Melissa Butts takes us soaring in "Space Junk 3D"—from the stunning depths of Meteor Crater to an unprecedented view of our increasingly crowded orbits, 22,000 miles above earth.

View the trailer and check theater locations: Here

On-screen, Don Kessler, (ret.) Head of NASA's Orbital Debris Office and the "Father of Space Junk," reaches back to the beginning of our solar system for understanding and guides us through the challenges we face in protecting our orbits for the future.

"It isn't a coincidence that media headlines of falling debris are growing just as we launch this film," explains Kessler. "As we started researching this story we found that most scientists agree we've reached this tipping point where orbital debris will continue to grow exponentially if we don't address the problem."

At risk is the future of space exploration and the safety of the extensive satellite network that powers our modern day communication systems. This visually explosive journey of discovery weighs the solutions aimed at restoring Earth's orbits. Fueling this story are stunning time lapse sequences and dynamic images that transport the viewer by wrapping us in star fields and allowing us to witness massive collisions in space—both natural and man-made.

"We set out to tell this story with scientific accuracy utilizing mind-blowing immersive space visualizations," explains Butts. To accomplish this her team worked with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) to create breathtaking, state-of-the-art, 3D visualizations from scientific data.

Butts also consulted with NASA's Orbital Debris Program on content for the film, which will be shown in science centers around the world.

The film will have its Washington D.C. debut at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital, where it will be screened in the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum for Natural History, this coming March.

View the Behind the Scenes Mini Doc: Here

"Space Junk 3D" is presented by Melrae Pictures, in association with Red Barn Productions. Produced by Melissa Butts andKimberly Rowe. Written by Shane Colton and Michael Benson. Lead Visual Effects by Luke Ployhar. Original music by Tom Hambleton, CAS. Director of Photography: Reed Smoot, ASC. Distributed globally by K2 Communications, the 38-minute film is available in both 3D and 2D, for Giant Screen and Digital Theaters
(PR Newswire, 2012)

Title: Russian Spacecraft To Crash Soon, Risks Unclear
Date: January 12, 2012
Source:
NDTV

Abstract: A Russian space probe designed to burnish the nation's faded space glory in a mission to one of Mars' moons has turned into one of the heaviest, most toxic pieces of space junk ever.

It will come crashing down to Earth in just a few days.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos' latest forecast has the unmanned Phobos-Ground probe falling out of Earth's orbit Sunday or Monday, with the median time placing it over the Indian Ocean just north of Madagascar. It said the precise time and place of its uncontrolled plunge can only be determined later, and unless someone actually spots fiery streaks in the sky, no one may ever know where any surviving pieces end up.

Space experts agree it's unlikely to pose big risks.

At 13.2 metric tons (14.6 tons), the Phobos-Ground is one of the largest spacecraft ever to plummet to Earth, considerably larger than the two defunct satellites that fell to Earth last fall and landed in the water.

Roscosmos predicted that only between 20 and 30 fragments of the Phobos probe with a total weight of up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) will survive the re-entry and plummet to Earth.

It's the third satellite to crash out of the sky in under five months: An old NASA 6-ton atmospheric research satellite came tumbling down in September, and a 3-ton German science satellite followed suit in October. But both were well past their prime.

Russia's Phobos-Ground probe is still a mere babe. It was launched in November, and a glitch left it stranded in orbit around Earth instead of bound for Mars to collect soil samples.

"What's different about this re-entry is that it's not a re-entry of an old, inert satellite that just was expected for years. It's something that is coming down because of an accident ... for me, that puts it in a different category," said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

Another striking difference is the 11 metric tons (12 tons) of highly toxic rocket fuel aboard Phobos-Ground, accounting for the bulk of its weight for the long journey to the Martian moon of Phobos. This makes it potentially the most toxic spacecraft to fall ever.

Roscosmos insists all the fuel will burn in the atmosphere and pose no danger, and some experts in Russia and the West share that forecast.

And if it's any consolation, both of the two previous uncontrolled satellites harmlessly showered fragments over water.

"The fuel indeed poses lethal danger in case of close contact, but I haven't heard of a single case of any civilians poisoned by rocket fuel from all the derelict satellites and failed rockets throughout the space era," said Igor Lissov, an independent Moscow-based space observer. "The objective reality is that it burns on re-entry. There is no reason to panic."

Some experts theorized, however, that part of the fuel might have frozen in the cold of space and could survive the fiery descent, posing a strong threat if it spills over populated areas. Such fears prompted the United States to shoot down its USA-193 spy satellite with a Navy missile in 2008.

Some botched Russian rocket launches in the past have showered fragments over populated areas in Siberia and neighbouring Kazakhstan.

In the latest such mishap, fragments of a Russian satellite that failed to enter a designated orbit after its launch last month came down around Novosibirsk, the third-largest Russian city with a population of about 1.5 million, damaging some houses but hurting no one. The fragments of the Meridian satellite, however, fell from a lower altitude at a far slower speed than the Phobos-Ground debris will have on re-entry.

Engineers from the Moscow-based company NPO Lavochkin, which built the Mars probe, said in an article giving a detailed description of the design that its fuel tanks are made of aluminium alloy. That means they should melt early on re-entry, backing up official assurances that the fuel would burn up on its way down.

McDowell said the probability is low that a large lump of toxic stuff will prove hazardous.

He noted that some of the probe's equipment is dense and could survive re-entry, but added the odds are that any surviving pieces will wind up in the ocean.

"All the best rules in the world" put in place to prevent uncontrolled satellites from crashing down do little if any good in the event of a launch failure, McDowell said. "This is always going to be the risk that something breaks, and you end up with a situation like this. You can minimize it, but you can't prevent it entirely."

The $170-million Phobos-Ground mission was Russia's most expensive and the most ambitious space endeavour since Soviet times. The spacecraft was intended to land on the crater-dented, potato-shaped Martian moon, collect soil samples and fly them back to Earth, giving scientists precious materials that could shed more light on the genesis of the solar system.

The probe was successfully launched Nov. 9 and entered a preliminary orbit where its engines were supposed to fire to set it on its path to Mars. They never did, and attempts to fix the glitch by Russian and European Space Agency experts failed.

Russia's space chief has acknowledged the Phobos-Ground mission was ill-prepared and risks of its failure were high, but said that Roscosmos had to give it the go-ahead so as not to miss the limited Earth-to-Mars launch window.

Phobos-Ground marked Russia's first planned foray beyond Earth's orbit since a botched 1996 robotic mission to Mars. That probe, designed by the same Lavochkin company, crashed shortly after launch due to an engine failure. The firm also built two other Phobos-bound probes that failed in 1988.

The crash of Mars-96 generated strong international fears because of some 200 grams of plutonium onboard. The craft eventually showered its fragments over the Chile-Bolivia border in the Andes Mountains, and the pieces were never recovered.

Russian officials continue to insist the craft plunged into the Pacific, their way of deflecting criticism for not warning the inhabitants of the impact area and for failing to search for plutonium and other debris.

Fears of radiation also were sparked by the fall of a nuclear-powered Soviet spy satellite that crashed over north-western Canada in January 1978. The Soviets claimed the craft completely burned on re-entry, but a massive recovery effort by Canadian authorities recovered a dozen fragments, most of which were radioactive.

The Phobos-Ground contains a tiny quantity of the radioactive metal Cobalt-57 in one of its instruments, but Roscosmos said it poses no threat of radioactive contamination
(NDTV, 2012)

Title: Mishaps Bring Space Junk Problem Into Public View
Date: January 13, 2012
Source:
MSNBC

Abstract: The news that a failed Russian Mars probe will come crashing back to Earth in the next few days reinforces a growing public perception that the sky is falling — that huge pieces of space junk could rain down on us at any moment.

Russian officials estimate that the 14.5-ton Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which became stuck in Earth orbit shortly after its Nov. 8 launch, will re-enter the atmosphere sometime between Saturday and Monday. It will be the third uncontrolled satellite re-entry in four months, following NASA's defunct UARS craft in September and the dead German ROSAT satellite in October.

These high-profile events have helped put space junk on the map for many people who had never worried about the possibility, however remote, of getting conked on the head by a satellite shard. For example, insurance giant State Farm saw fit to address the issue just ahead of the UARS crash.

"While claims are handled on a case-by-case basis, you might be surprised to learn damage from satellite debris, aka space junk, likely would be covered under most insurance policies," the company wrote in a blog post Sept. 22, just two days before UARS came down.

Another major company, Farmers Insurance, aired a commercial during this winter's college football bowl games offering similar assurances to its current and potential customers.

And a new IMAX film called " Space Junk 3D " is felicitously timed to hit theaters Friday. The movie aims to raise awareness of the threat that orbital debris poses to space exploration and satellite communications.

A Huge Cloud of Debris 
Since the dawn of the space age in 1957, humanity has managed to clutter up near-Earth space with a staggering amount of junk. Much of it is defunct satellites, old rocket bodies and the shrapnel spawned when these objects collide.

NASA estimates that our planet's orbital debris cloud contains more than 500,000 pieces larger than a marble and more than 20,000 at least as big as a softball. The United States' Space Surveillance Network is tracking the softball-size objects to try to prevent collisions.

Despite the fevered media response to dramatic events like the UARS crash, space junk poses little threat to people on the ground. Most pieces of falling satellites burn up the atmosphere, and the bits that make it through are likely to land harmlessly in the ocean or on uninhabited land. To date, nobody is known to have been injured by a chunk of falling debris.

But that's not to say space debris is innocuous. It poses a real threat to the craft that orbit and observe our planet and provide navigation and telecommunications services. In 2009, for example, the Iridium 33 communications satellite was destroyed when it slammed into a defunct Russian satellite.

And space junk can endanger astronauts circling Earth. In June 2011, the possibility of a collision between debris and the International Space Station forced the crew of the orbiting lab to take shelter in a docked Soyuz vehicle, in case they needed to make a speedy getaway. The debris did not end up hitting the station.

There's Still Time 
Such incidents notwithstanding, Earth's debris cloud is not yet thick enough to seriously affect manned or robotic space operations, NASA officials say.

"It's really not too bad right now," said Nick Johnson, chief scientist of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We're not losing spacecraft right and left due to debris. But later in the century, the situation is going to be noticeably different if we don't do something different."

Johnson said humanity probably will have to come up with some effective ways to clean up the junk clogging Earth orbit. The good news is that we have time to figure something out, because the rate of debris accumulation is projected to remain quite low for decades to come.

"There is no urgency, thankfully. We can easily wait 10 or 15 years before we start doing anything," Johnson told Space.com. "We have time to go do this right."

Taking the Problem Seriously 
Another piece of good news, Johnson said, is that the orbital-debris threat, long recognized by those in the space community, has finally made it onto the radar of decision-makers in the United States and abroad.

Three events in recent years really brought the issue to the awareness of U.S. political and military leaders, according to Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation and a former orbital analyst with the Air Force.

The first was a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, which added about 3,000 new pieces of space junk to the orbiting population. The second came in 2008, when the U.S. destroyed its malfunctioning spy satellite USA-193 in a manner that did not create a huge cloud of long-lasting debris. And the third was the Iridium 33 collision.

"It was those three things that kind of woke us up," Weeden told Space.com. The top brass have begun coming to grips with the fact that space is a busy and congested place, with many stakeholders around the world, he said.

"You have a situation where you have many people using something, and you have to figure out how you're going to use it in a sustainable manner for the long term," Weeden said. "And that's what everybody's working on right now" (MSNBC, 2012).

Title: Russian Space Probe To Crash On Earth Within Hours
Date: January 15, 2012
Source:
CNS News

Abstract: A Russian probe designed to travel to a moon of Mars but stuck in Earth orbit will come crashing down within hours, the Russian space agency said Sunday.

Roscosmos said the unmanned Phobos-Ground willl crash between 1641 and 2105 GMT (11:41 a.m. and 4:05 p.m. EST). It could crash anywhere along the route of its next few orbits, which would include Europe, southeast Asia, Australia and South America. The U.S., Canada and much of Russia are outside the risk zone.

A large part of each orbit is over water, and scientists have estimated that the risks of the probe crashing into any populated areas are minimal.

At 13.5 metric tons (14.9 tons), the Phobos-Ground is one of the heaviest pieces of space junk ever to fall on Earth, and one of the most toxic too. The bulk of its weight is a load of 11 metric tons (12 tons) of highly toxic rocket fuel intended for the long journey to the Martian moon of Phobos. It has been left unused as the probe got stuck in orbit around Earth shortly after its Nov. 9 launch.

Roscosmos predicts that only between 20 and 30 fragments of the Phobos probe with a total weight of up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) will survive the re-entry and plummet to Earth. It said all of the fuel will burn up entirely in the atmosphere.

The probe's fuel tanks are made of aluminum alloy and should melt early on re-entry, backing up the official assurances.

The Phobos-Ground also contains a tiny quantity of the radioactive metal Cobalt-57 in one of its instruments, but Roscosmos said it poses no threat of radioactive contamination.

The $170-million Phobos-Ground was Russia's most expensive and the most ambitious space mission since Soviet times. The spacecraft was intended to land on the crater-dented, potato-shaped Martian moon, collect soil samples and fly them back to Earth, giving scientists precious materials that could shed more light on the genesis of the solar system (CNS News, 2012)

Title: Russian Space Probe Crashes Into Pacific Ocean
Date: January 15, 2012
Source:
Fox News

Abstract: A Russian space probe designed to boost the nation's pride on a bold mission to a moon of Mars came down in flames Sunday, showering fragments into the south Pacific west of Chile's coast, officials said.

Pieces from the Phobos-Ground, which had become stuck in Earth's orbit, landed in water 775 miles west of Wellington Island in Chile's south, the Russian military Air and Space Defense Forces said in a statement carried by the country's news agencies.

The military space tracking facilities were monitoring the probe's crash, its spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said. Zolotukhin said the deserted ocean area is where Russia guides its discarded space cargo ships serving the International Space Station.

RIA Novosti news agency, however, cited Russian ballistic experts who said the fragments fell over a broader patch of Earth's surface, spreading from the Atlantic and including the territory of Brazil. It said the midpoint of the crash zone was located in the Brazilian state of Goias.

The $170 million craft was one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth, but space officials and experts said the risks posed by its crash were minimal because the toxic rocket fuel on board and most of the craft's structure would burn up in the atmosphere high above the ground anyway.

The Phobos-Ground was designed to travel to one of Mars' twin moons, Phobos, land on it, collect soil samples and fly them back to Earth in 2014 in one of the most daunting interplanetary missions ever. It got stranded in Earth's orbit after its Nov. 9 launch, and efforts by Russian and European Space Agency experts to bring it back to life failed.

Prof. Heiner Klinkrad, Head of The European Space Agency's Space Debris Office that was monitoring the probe's descent, said the craft didn't pose any significant risks.

"This one is way, way down in the ranking," he said in a telephone interview from his office in Berlin, adding that booster rockets contain more solid segments that may survive fiery re-entries.

Thousands of pieces of derelict space vehicles orbit Earth, occasionally posing danger to astronauts and satellites in orbit, but as far as is known, no one has ever been hurt by falling space debris.

Russia's space agency Roscosmos predicted that only between 20 and 30 fragments of the Phobos probe with a total weight of up to 440 pounds would survive the re-entry and plummet to Earth.

Klinkrad agreed with that assessment, adding that about 100 metric tons of space junk fall on Earth every year. "This is 200 kilograms out of these 100 tons," he said.

The Phobos-Ground weighed 14.9 tons, and that included a load of 12 tons of highly toxic rocket fuel intended for the long journey to the Martian moon of Phobos and left unused as the probe got stranded in orbit around Earth.

Roscosmos said that all of the fuel will burn up on re-entry, a forecast Klinkrad said was supported by calculations done by NASA and the ESA. He said the craft's tanks are made of aluminum alloy that has a very low melting temperature, and they will burst at an altitude of more than 60 miles.

The space era has seen far larger spacecraft crash. NASA's Skylab space station that went down in 1979 weighed 85 tons and Russia's Mir space station that de-orbited in 2001 weighed about 143 tons. Their descent fueled fears around the world, but the wreckage of both fell far away from populated areas.

The Phobos-Ground was Russia's most expensive and the most ambitious space mission since Soviet times. Its mission to the crater-dented, potato-shaped Martian moon was to give scientists precious materials that could shed more light on the genesis of the solar system.

Russia's space chief has acknowledged the Phobos-Ground mission was ill-prepared, but said that Roscosmos had to give it the go-ahead so as not to miss the limited Earth-to-Mars launch window.

Its predecessor, Mars-96, which was built by the same Moscow-based NPO Lavochkin company, experienced an engine failure and crashed shortly after its launch in 1996. Its crash drew strong international fears because of around 200 grams of plutonium onboard. The craft eventually showered its fragments over the Chile-Bolivia border in the Andes Mountains, and the pieces were never recovered.

The worst ever radiation spill from a derelict space vehicle came in January 1978 when the nuclear-powered Cosmos 954 satellite crashed over northwestern Canada. The Soviets claimed the craft completely burned up on re-entry, but a massive recovery effort by Canadian authorities recovered a dozen fragments, most of which were radioactive.

The Phobos-Ground also contained a tiny quantity of the radioactive metal Cobalt-57 in one of its instruments, but Roscosmos said it poses no threat of radioactive contamination.

The spacecraft also carried a small cylinder with a collection of microbes as part of an experiment by the Pasadena, California-based Planetary Society that designed to explore whether they can survive interplanetary travel. The cylinder is attached to a capsule that was supposed to deliver Phobos ground samples back to Earth.

Igor Marinin, the editor of Russia's Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine, said on Russia's NTV television that it would likely be destroyed (Fox News, 2012)

Title: Progress Space Ship ‘Buried’ In Pacific Spacecraft Cemetery
Date: April 28, 2012
Source:
RT

Abstract: The remains of a Russian Progress spaceship have splashed down in the Pacific’s Spacecraft Cemetery. Most of the vessel carrying over a ton of waste from the ISS burnt up in the atmosphere.

The cargo ship spent a total of nine days in orbit as a laboratory for scientific experiments on the International Space Station.

After undocking with the ISS on April 19 the Progress
М-14М successfully conducted six geophysical experiments.

Before the vessel’s separation from the ISS, Russian cosmonauts loaded it up with over a ton of waste and exhaust equipment that had been “cluttering” the station.

The Spacecraft Cemetery is an area of the South Pacific, approximately 3,900 km from the capital of New Zealand, Wellington.  It is used to deposit the remains of spacecraft that do not burn up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, such as the carcass of the Russian Mir space station and waste-filled cargo ships.

The remote location was specially selected for the disposal of spacecraft because of its depth of four km and distance from shipping lanes.

The disposal of spacecraft does little harm to the environment as most of the remains are burnt up before they penetrate the planet’s atmosphere.

On Friday a separate mission from the ISS touched down in Kazakhstan’s steppe carrying three astronauts who had spent six months at the Station (RT, 2012).

Title: Russian Roulette: Where Will Failed Satellites Fall?
Date: August 10, 2012
Source:
RT

Abstract: Two communication satellites, Express MD2 and Telcom-3, which failed to deliver into orbit, will fall on Earth in six month’s time. Most of the planet is being threatened with space bombardment as the sats will not completely burn on re-entry.

The satellites remain in elliptic orbit together with a Briz-M upper stage, which still has some fuel in it and an element of framework. It is understood that an abnormal engine cut-off caused emergency separation of the satellites from the upper stage.

The objects are circling the planet on an orbit with 5,500 kilometers in apogee and 300 kilometers in perigee.

The sight of all that equipment falling after burning upon re-entering the atmosphere promises to be really impressive – if only you do not happen to be in the impact zone. 

The chance to find yourself in the way of white-hot debris falling from the sky remains for practically all inhabitants of our planet, exhilarate space experts.

“The space vehicles and upper stage remain on 49.9 degrees inclined orbit. So the impact zone might be anywhere from 50 northern latitude to 50 southern latitude,” a source in the Russian space agency told Interfax.

That puts all of Africa, Asia, Australia, practically all North and South Americas, under threat of satellite fall. High latitudes, as well as Europe below the line of Frankfurt-Prague-Kiev, are excluded.

Natan Aismont, a leading research fellow at Russia’s Institute of Space Research, predicts the satellites will remain in orbit for at least the next half year.

“With the given parameters, the object will not fall on Earth for quite a long time, at least not earlier than six to eight months,” he said.

Various factors, including solar weather, will influence the timeframe of the fall, the scientist said. The angle of incidence would be critical in calculating the actual drop zone. The closer to 90 degrees it is, the easier and more exact the calculations of the impact zone will be made. If the trajectory of the fall is low-pitched, the calculations will be much approximate, the scientist shared.

Russia’s Aerospace Defense is closely following evolutions of the lost satellites. The military insist the objects pose no threat either to the ISS or to the working satellites of the Russian space task force.

On August 7, a Proton-M rocket with Express MD2 and Telcom-3 communication satellites was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. All stages of the booster worked correctly and satellites with Briz-M uppers stage were delivered into an interim orbit, where the final stage failed to do the final and most important engine firing (RT, 2012).

Title: US Satellite Lost In Failed Russian Launch From Pacific
Date: February 1, 2013
Source:
Fox News

Abstract: Sea Launch AG says a U.S. communications satellite was lost after a booster rocket carrying it into space failed shortly after its launch from a floating platform in the Pacific.

The company said in a statement Friday the Intelsat 27 satellite was lost 40 seconds after the launch due to the failure of the Zenit-3SL rocket. The Boeing. Co-built spacecraft was launched Thursday from the Odyssey ocean platform.

Sea Launch AG President Kjell Karlsen said the cause of the failure is unknown and the company is working to evaluate it.

An affiliate of Russia's RKK Energia state-controlled rocket manufacturer owns 95 percent of stock in Sea Launch, with the remainder being held indirectly by Boeing Co. and Norwegian Aker ASA. The Zenit booster is manufactured by Ukraine's Yuzhmash rocket plant (Fox News, 2013).