TRMM Satellite Reentering the Atmosphere Tonight

June 15th, 2015 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.
Japan's Hayabusa satellite renters the atmosphere in June, 2011.

Japan’s Hayabusa satellite renters the atmosphere in June, 2011.

NASA’s very successful Tropical Rain Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite will mostly burn up upon reentry tonight. The latest estimated time of re-entry from right now is 4 a.m. GMT, give or take 1.5 hours.

To show you just how uncertain these predictions are, that time was moved up by 35 minutes from a prediction just 12 hours before, which is almost half a world away in terms of distance. In other words, it just about impossible to know where the satellite will reenter, except that it will be between about 35 N and 35 S latitudes.

Orbital predictions are very accurate when all you have to account for is gravity; once atmospheric drag comes into play, it’s a whole different ball game.

This news article from a couple days ago quotes NASA as saying that about 12 spacecraft components could survive re-entry and hit the surface. They also say the chance that one of these could hit someone somewhere is 1 in 4,200. I’m a little surprised it’s that high. But then there are a couple billion potential targets. 😉

If I thought there was a decent chance it will reenter over the southeast U.S., I’d set my camera up for extended time lapse session tonight. But I’m pretty sure that would be a waste of time.

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