Watch Your Heads! Space Station Junk to Hit Earth Today

Somewhere, sometime today, the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) will drop to Earth at 100 mph.

The EAS as photographed by the ISS crew in 2007 (NASA)
The EAS as photographed by the ISS crew in 2007 (NASA)

A huge piece of space junk discarded from the space station in 2007 will drop through the atmosphere some time today (Sunday). The Early Ammonia Servicer, otherwise known as the EAS, was detached from the orbiting outpost as its services were no longer required. The double-refrigerator-sized piece of equipment weighs 635 kg (1400 lb) and is filled with toxic ammonia. Although NASA believes most of its mass will disintegrate during re-entry, there’s a real chance of up to 15 pieces of the EAS reaching the ground, the largest piece could weigh up to 17.5 kg (40 lb).

But here’s the funny thing, as the EAS is currently skirting along the outermost reaches of the atmosphere, we are uncertain as to when, or where, the re-entry will take place. NASA and U.S. Space Surveillance Network scientists have done well to narrow the re-entry window down to one day. Fortunately, 70% of the planet is covered in water, so we should be fine. But should any parts of the EAS find solid ground, NASA has warned that we shouldn’t approach any suspicious-looking (and probably steaming) bits of meteorite in case the EAS still has some ammonia on board…

The EAS was jettissoned from the space station on July 23rd, 2007 by Astronaut Clay Anderson and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin during an EVA lasting nearly 8 hours. The station’s robotic arm (operated by Oleg Kotov) helped the space walking crew toss the EAS overboard. It wasn’t a simple task however; as the EAS is so big, it was becoming a serious logistics problem. Not only that, but the unit had to be pushed toward the Earth just before the station carried out a re-boost operation by a docked Soyuz spaceship. That way, the station was promoted to a higher orbit, whilst the EAS began its long spiral toward the Earth’s atmosphere, thus avoiding any chance of a troublesome re-encounter in a later orbit.

Although the EAS was predicted to stay in orbit for 300 days, it’s lasted significantly longer, reaching the 15 month mark. Back in July this year, it was reported by several astronomers that the EAS was clearly visible from the ground. Unfortunately, any viewing opportunities are about to come to an abrupt end, with the EAS exploding into a speeding fireball at some point around the globe (everythere, that is, except for Antarctica).

All going well, the EAS should explode, with any debris falling into the ocean. Although the likelihood of the EAS landing even remotely close to a populated region is slim, let’s hope this piece of space debris doesn’t create any chance of becoming a health risk (whether that be from sniffing ammonia or a twisted chunk of metal falling into your living room).

Source: Universe Today

4 thoughts on “Watch Your Heads! Space Station Junk to Hit Earth Today”

  1. Funny. I swear early this morning (around 3.30am EST on the US East Coast) I saw an extremely bright ‘shooting star’ come flying in straight down (instead of across the sky as Ive seen many times). I wonder if that was it. Neat.

  2. I think the EAS did reenter in the pacific north west.
    From the southern sky over Seattle towards the Olympic mountains. I watched a bright white object with a halo and no trail descend and finish as a group of red bits before I lost sight behind a tree. This happend in the early morning between 3 and 4am local time

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