NASA said 26 components of its Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), weighing a total of 1,200 pounds, could have survived the fiery fall and landed on the surface of the Earth.
The space agency said the UARS fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT on Friday and 1:09 a.m. Saturday.
The 6.5-ton satellite stopped functioning as part of science in 2005, and six years after the end of its productive scientific life, UARS broke into pieces during re-entry. NASA said most of it burned up in the atmosphere, and that data indicates the satellite likely broke apart and landed in the Pacific Ocean far off the U.S. coast.
There are no reported injury or property damage.
The decommissioned UARS fell back to Earth 20 years and nine days after its launch. It was launched on Sept. 12, 1991 for a 14-year mission that resulted in long-term records of chemicals in the atmosphere, according to NASA. UARS was the first multi-instrumented satellite to observe numerous chemical components of the atmosphere in order to provide a better understanding of photochemistry. The satellite also provided key data on the amount of light coming from the sun at ultraviolet and visible wavelengths.
During the fall to Earth, NASA said the UARS passed from the east coast of Africa over the Indian Ocean, then the Pacific Ocean. It then went across northern Canada, then across the northern Atlantic Ocean, over a part of West Africa.
The vast majority of the orbital transit was over water, with some flight over northern Canada and West Africa, NASA said.
NASA added that it got confirmation of the satellite's re-entry from the Operations Center for JFCC-Space, the Joint Functional Component Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
We extend our appreciation to the Joint Space Operations Center for monitoring UARS not only this past week but also throughout its entire 20 years on orbit, said Nick Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for orbital debris, at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a statement. This was not an easy re-entry to predict because of the natural forces acting on the satellite as its orbit decayed. Space-faring nations around the world also were monitoring the satellite's descent in the last two hours and all the predictions were well within the range estimated by JSpOC.
Scientists believe UARS landed between 57 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south latitude. They also estimate the debris footprint to be about 500 miles long.
Space.com has reported that its skywatching columnist Joe Rao saw the UARS spacecraft fly over his New York home before early on Monday.
During the three or so minutes I had it in view, the satellite slowly rose in brightness from about magnitude 3 to 0, then suddenly flared/flashed in brightness to about -2 or -3, then quickly dropped off to near-invisibility, Rao told Space.com. Then the whole sequence began anew. It did this a total of three times before it vanished behind the treetops in my southeast. The thing must be tumbling.
See the satellite tumble in videos below.
NASA UARS Satellite Reentry