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Falling satellite slows down, Earth strike delayed

Sep 23, 2011 12:27:00 PM - thestate.com
A dead 6-ton satellite baffled NASA experts Friday by slowing its descent toward Earth and delaying its ultimate crash until the early part of the weekend.

The space agency is now predicting the satellite will crash down to Earth late Friday or early Saturday, Eastern Time. Increased solar activity had been causing the atmosphere to expand and the satellite to fall more quickly, but that's no longer such a major factor, experts said. What's more, the orientation of the satellite apparently has changed in orbit, and that's slowing its fatal plunge.

Friday morning, NASA cautioned there is now a slim chance any surviving debris will land in the United States. Earlier this week, NASA said North America would be in the clear and that the satellite would strike somewhere Friday afternoon.

"It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any certainty," NASA said in a statement.

The Aerospace Corp., based in California, is estimating the strike sometime between about 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. EDT, which would make a huge difference in where the debris might wind up. Those late-night, early-morning passes show the satellite flying over parts of the United States.

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