A defunct satellite originally meant to analyze the Earth's ozone layer is expected to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and crash land Friday, according to reports from NASA released Thursday.
NASA launched the 6.5 ton satellite in 1991 and decommissioned it in 2005. However, news of its pending re-entry caused an international guessing game as to where and when the rogue satellite would fall.
On Thursday, NASA gave its most detailed time forecast for the crash: Friday afternoon.
Re-entry is expected sometime during the afternoon of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time, NASA officials said in a statement Thursday. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 to 36 hours.
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is expected to break up in the atmosphere and leave a smear of debris 500 miles long, according to NASA officials. The break-up is not expected to in the North American airspace, officials said, but it is currently unknown where the space junk will land.
The risk of getting hit by space debris was extremely small, NASA officials said, and since the 1950s, no reports had confirmed personal or property injury due to space debris reentering the Earth's atmosphere.
However, Lottie Williams, a resident of Tulsa, Okla. is reportedly the only person in the world who has been hit by space debris. Williams reported having a 6-inch piece of a Delta rocket that struck her shoulder while walking in a park in 1997, according to several news reports. She did not suffer injury and told FoxNews.com, The weight was comparable to an empty soda can. It looked like a piece of fabric except when you tap it, it sounded metallic.
Researchers at the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies based in Los Angeles analyzed the piece of blackened material and concluded it was part of a Delta II rocket launched in 1996, FoxNews.com reported.
Space junk has become a growing concern after debris started reentering the Earth's atmosphere in 1957.
In September, the National Research Council sounded a warning that NASA's policies with space junk removal had not kept pace with the accumulation of the unearthly debris.
The current space environment is growing increasingly hazardous to spacecraft and astronauts, said Donald Kessler, chair of the committee that wrote the report and retired head of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office. NASA needs to determine the best path forward for tackling the multifaceted problems caused by meteoroids and orbital debris that put human and robotic space operations at risk.
Space debris reached its peak in 1989 when over 1,000 satellites, rocket bodies and pieces of debris re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, according to data from the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies. That number decreased to fewer than 200 objects in 2007, the last year data was available.