Dead Satellite Probably Late for Its Own Funeral

By: Bill Harwood, CBS News
By: Bill Harwood, CBS News

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CBS, AP) -- A dead 6-ton satellite isn't falling as fast as NASA expected and it's likely to arrive back on Planet Earth later than first expected..

Late Friday morning, NASA cautioned there's a low probability any surviving debris will land in the United States. Earlier this week, NASA said North America would be in the clear.

And while it's still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any certainty, the space agency is now predicting the satellite will crash down to Earth either late Friday or early Saturday, Eastern Time, leaving a 500-mile-long footprint somewhere along the satellite's orbital track.

Increased solar activity had been causing the atmosphere to expand and the satellite to fall more quickly, but that's no longer such a major factor, experts said. What's more, the orientation of the satellite apparently has changed in orbit, and that's slowing its fatal plunge.

More than two dozen chunks of debris are likely to survive re-entry and hit the ground. CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports it will be a fiery end to the old satellite when it bursts back into Earth's atmosphere, which computer models suggest is most likely to happen somewhere over the South Pacific. But not even NASA scientists can say for sure.

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Harwood says that the UARS has an orbital velocity of approx. 5 miles per second. That creates uncertainty over its position when it descends - a five-minute delay can translate into a difference of 1,500 miles. Since three-fourths of the earth's surface is water, there's a very good chance no one will see it crash Saturday.

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