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NEWS RELEASE · 24th September 2011
CBC
A six-ton Nasa satellite on a collision course with Earth is clinging to space, apparently flipping position in its ever-lower orbit and stalling its death plunge.

The old research spacecraft was targeted to crash through the atmosphere sometime on Friday night or early Saturday, putting Canada, Africa and Australia in the potential crosshairs, although most of the satellite should burn up during re-entry.

The United States wasn't entirely out of the woods; the possible strike zone skirted Washington state.

"It just doesn't want to come down," said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.

Mr McDowell said the satellite's delayed demise demonstrates how unreliable predictions can be. That said, "the best guess is that it will still splash in the ocean, just because there's more ocean out there".

Until Friday, increased solar activity was causing the atmosphere to expand and the 35-foot, bus-size satellite to free fall more quickly. But late on Friday morning, Nasa said the sun was no longer the major factor in the rate of descent and that the satellite's position, shape or both had changed by the time it slipped down to a 100-mile orbit.

"The risk to public safety is very remote," Nasa said in a statement.

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