WASHINGTON – Any debris that reached Earth from a falling satellite probably crashed somewhere in Egypt, NASA officials said Thursday.
The agency announced that any pieces of the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer satellite that survived a fiery fall through the atmosphere would have hit Egypt about 11:15 p.m. EST Wednesday. The announcement is based on radar tracking by the Air Force, said NASA spokeswoman Dolores Beasley.
The 7,000-pound science satellite began falling from orbit Wednesday and NASA updated its predicted landing site throughout the day and evening.
Before the final announcement, the agency had said the probable landing site of any debris would be the Persian Gulf. Earlier, the prediction had been northeastern Brazil.
Twelve hours after the predicted impact time, Beasley said it was still uncertain if any pieces of the satellite actually reached Earth.
The falling satellite was tracked by radar by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Air Force command known as NORAD that monitors space satellites.
It was expected that the satellite would start breaking apart as it entered the atmosphere, about 50 miles high. Most of the craft was expected to come apart and burn up in the atmosphere during its high-speed fall. NASA engineers, however, said that up to nine stainless steel and titanium pieces, weighing up to 100 pounds, would reach the Earth's surface.
Any satellite pieces that survived the fall were expected to land in a debris field stretching some 625 miles under the orbital path.
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.
The Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer, however, had no onboard rockets to direct re-entry.
The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a NASA spacecraft was Skylab, a 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.
Launched in 1992, the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer collected images of more than 1,000 celestial objects detected in the extreme ultraviolet part of the spectrum. The craft was designed to work for three years, but it was operational for eight. The observation program ended last year.