York & North Yorkshire

RAF Fylingdales tracks falling Nasa satellite

Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite
Image caption The "productive scientific life" of UARS ended in 2005 when it ran out of fuel

A remote airforce base in the North York Moors is at the forefront of international efforts to track an out-of-control climate satellite which is due to crash to Earth later.

RAF Fylingdales is using its giant radar to track the upper atmosphere research satellite (UARS).

The base, near Whitby, forms part of a worldwide network of powerful radar stations and tracks objects in orbit bigger than 10cm.

The station was originally built at the height of the Cold War to track any incoming ballistic missile attack - a role it still performs.

Squadron leader David Pollock said the team at Fylingdales had been monitoring the 35ft-long satellite since its launch.

He said: "The majority of it will burn up but there's a slight possibility that some of it will come back down to Earth."

Mr Pollock said Fylingdales' analysts would try to predict when and where the satellite would enter the Earth's atmosphere and would then "inform necessary authorities accordingly".

An RAF spokeswoman said: "The Space Operations Room at RAF Fylingdales is manned 24 hours a day by specialist RAF and civilian personnel, and its operators will be working to track the UARS object as it returns to the atmosphere.

"The solid state phased array radar (SSPAR) is being tasked by the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force to concentrate its radar energy towards the object in order to track its final orbit.

"This information will then be used by various different agencies to predict the path of re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

"With the majority of the Earth being covered by water, the chances of an impact on solid ground are slim to negligible.

"Whilst the object may survive the harsh conditions of its journey back to Earth, it is important to remember that parts of the satellite - if not all of it - will burn up on re-entry."

The US space agency says the risk of a piece of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite hitting anyone is 1 in 3,200.

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