September 24, 2011 in Nation/World

Satellite hangs in space a little longer

Researchers put Washington in spacecraft’s possible strike zone
Marcia Dunn Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A 6-ton NASA satellite on a collision course with Earth clung to space Friday, apparently flipping position in its ever-lower orbit and stalling its death plunge.

The old research spacecraft was targeted to crash through the atmosphere sometime Friday night or early today, putting Canada, Africa and Australia in the potential crosshairs, although most of the satellite should burn up during re-entry. The U.S. wasn’t entirely out of the woods; the possible strike zone skirted Washington state.

“The best guess is that it will still splash in the ocean, just because there’s more ocean out there,” said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Until Friday, increased solar activity was causing the atmosphere to expand and the 35-foot, bus-size satellite to fall more quickly. But Friday morning, NASA said the satellite’s position, shape or both had changed by the time it slipped down to a 100-mile orbit.

On Friday night, NASA said it expected the satellite to come crashing down between 8:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. PDT, but whether that had happened was unknown at press time.

It was expected to pass over the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans at that time, as well as Canada, Africa and Australia.

But NASA stressed its predictions had almost all of the U.S. in the clear – except Washington. Any surviving wreckage was expected to be limited to a 500-mile swath.

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