NASA’s Defunct Satellite Will Return

NASA’s Defunct Satellite Will Return

NASA’s Defunct Satellite Will Return

WASHINGTON — An older NASA satellite, launched nearly four decades ago, is expected to return late Jan. 8 with very little risk to people on the ground.

NASA said on January 6 that the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS), launched in 1984 and shut down in 2005, will return on January 8. hours, based on US Space Force data.

The Space Force’s Space Track Service updated this forecast late Jan. 6, with a new reentry time of 11:25 p.m. Eastern Time, plus or minus 10 a.m. The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies estimated a reentry at 10:49 p.m. Eastern Time, plus or minus 1 p.m., based on data from the start of Jan. 6.

Most of the 2,450-kilogram satellite will burn up upon re-entry, NASA said in its statement, but some components will likely survive and reach the surface. The chance of debris harming anyone on the ground is 1 in 9,400, the agency estimated.

ERBS was launched on the Space Shuttle Challenger in October 1984 to study the balance between the energy the Earth absorbed from the sun and the energy it emitted, as well as to monitor ozone in the stratosphere. Intended to operate for two years, ERBS was finally retired in 2005.

NASA launched ERBS before the agency’s first Orbital Debris Mitigation Guidelines in the 1990s. The current U.S. government standard practices for orbital debris mitigation, last updated in 2019, require satellites in low Earth orbit to be de-orbited no later than 25 years after the end of their mission, which the ERBS will respect. However, the ERBS fails to meet another aspect of the guidelines, limiting the risk of casualties from falling debris to a maximum of 1 in 10,000.

There has been a long-standing discussion of reducing the post-mission disposal lifetime limit from 25 years to as low as 5 years to minimize the chance of collisions that could create debris. A National Orbital Debris Implementation Plan, released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in July 2022, directed NASA and several other agencies to re-evaluate existing mitigation guidelines, “in particular the potential benefits and costs of reducing deorbit times”.

In September 2022, the Federal Communications Commission approved an order requiring commercial satellites applying for FCC licenses or seeking access to the US market after September 2024 to deorbit their satellites no later than five years after the end of their missions. This rule applies to satellites that end their life at altitudes of 2,000 kilometers or less.

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