Is debris from a 2,500-tonne Russian satellite going to fall over the UAE?

There have been ongoing reports that debris from Cosmos 1484, a Soviet remote sensing satellite launched in 1983, is about to hit the earth, and that it will enter the atmosphere right above the GCC, somewhere on the UAE.

According to rumours doing the rounds on the Internet, millions of pieces of this debris could fall anywhere in the UAE, Saudi Arabia or Yemen – or all of them.

However, the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIST) has rubbished claims that debris could actually reach the surface of the earth, claiming that friction will burn it off before it reaches the UAE even if it does happen to get into the atmosphere above the region.

“EIAST has analysed the reported threat posed by a Russian satellite, called COSMOS 1484, re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, which some claim will fall in or around UAE territory,” the EIAST, a Dubai government organization, said in a note.

Allaying any fears that residents might harbor, it said that the entry of such debris into the earth’s atmosphere was commonplace but posed no threat whatsoever.

“EIAST wishes to ensure the public that such an occurrence poses virtually no threat since the friction caused by re-entry into the atmosphere causes the satellite to break down into pieces and burn out. Every few days such space debris enters the atmosphere and is destroyed. For COSMOS 1484, the same is anticipated,” the organisation said in its note.

EIAST further added that satellite was launched by the Soviet Union in 1983. “The payload was meant for gathering scientific information about Earth. It weighs around 2,500 tonnes,” it noted.

According to Nasa, the US space agency, Cosmos 1484 was a follow-on to the Meteor series and the second flight of a prototype for the Resurs-O1 spacecraft. It was used for gathering regular information on the natural resources of the earth for use in various branches of the Soviet economy, and conducting further tests on new types of measuring apparatus and methods of remote sensing of the earth’s surface and atmosphere.

EIAST maintains that when satellites enter the atmosphere, they break down into pieces (since they are not designed or manufactured for re-entry, like thickness of structure, material used, no. of bolts, etc.). “Every few days, such Space debris enters the atmosphere and gets destroyed. However, no guarantees are available, since the entry event is a very complicated and no modelling is possible to predict the destruction properly.”

In addition, the UAE organisation says that it is extremely hard to predict when the satellite might actually enter the earth’s atmosphere and that conjecture about the Cosmos 1484 entry has been ongoing since early last month.

“Even with very advanced technologies available only to the US, the prediction of re-entry is not accurate. In the current case, COSMOS 1484 was expected to enter the atmosphere on Dec 19, Jan 7, and then Jan 11,” EIAST said.

“After re-entry, the satellite may continue orbiting the earth, hence there exists a very small probability that small pieces may hit the ground (after surviving the burn out), but it could be almost anywhere on its path around the earth,” it said.

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