UAE Participates In Observing Entry Of A Space Object Into The Earth’s Atmosphere

04 November 2015

The UAE Space Agency and the Abu Dhabi based International Astronomy Centre has announced that they are co-organising  a joint mission to observe and study the entry of what is believed to be an artificial space debris into the Earth’s atmosphere on 13 November 2015. The co-operative mission will include internationally renowned scientists from with the US Space Agency (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as scientists from a number of international space observatories.

The debris, which is estimated to be 1 to 3 meters in length, was discovered in 2013 by Arizona University’s Catalina Astronomical observatory in the US. The object is expected to enter the atmosphere and start its burnout in an area above the Indian Ocean off the southern coast of Sri Lanka at around 06:19 GMT on the 13th of November. It should be possible to observe it with the naked eye, as it is expected to be as bright and visible as the full moon in daylight.

The UAE mission be conducted on-board a private aircraft that will fly out from Abu Dhabi on the morning of the entry event, and will head to the site where the Space object is expected to enter. The aircraft will fly at an altitude of 10 kilometres, 200 kilometres to the south of the site where the object is anticipated to enter the atmosphere. It plane will remain airborne for approximately 30 minutes, while the team on-board will make their observations using special equipment before returning to Abu Dhabi.

The international mission will observe and monitor the object as it enters Earth's atmosphere in order to study it and its behaviour as it burns through the atmosphere in order to improve the models which allow scientists to predict the trajectory and behaviour of Space objects that enter the Earth’s atmosphere. These objects could be natural bodies such as asteroids and meteors, or artificial objects such as old or faulty Satellites or remains of rockets and other manmade items that are generally referred to as Space Debris.

H.E. Dr. Khalifa Al Rumaithi, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, said: "Our participation in such space-related events comes in line with the country's strategic plans for the UAE Space sector, which aims at enhancing and supporting scientific research in the Space field."

"The Emirate's delegation and its participation in the observation efforts will highlight the country's position in the international space community, and support scientific discovery, which benefits the whole of humanity," Al Rumaithi added.

For his part, HE Dr. Mohamed Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, said: "The studies and data collected while this object enters the Earth's atmosphere will be invaluable for our understanding of near earth space objects movement and how they are effected by the various environmental factors. It will also represent an opportunity to validate strategies for how a global early warning and response system for Space objects entering the Earth’s atmosphere can be managed and coordinated in the future." 

Engineer Mohammad Shawkat Odeh, Director of the Abu Dhabi based International Astronomical Center, explained that the object is expected to completely burn out upon entering the atmosphere, and should any pieces of it remain, they will be very small and harmless and will scatter in the Indian Ocean. The event, Odeh added, will be seen by the naked eye from Earth. This mission represents a unique opportunity for scientists, as it is very rare that scientists are aware so far advance of the time and place where a Space object will fall to be able to organise and prepare for such a logistically complex trip in time to observe it.