The orbit of Solar Max, a 5,000-pound satellite that collected information on solar flares for nine years, has deteriorated to the point that the spacecraft should crash back to Earth late this week, NASA said today.
Most of the craft will burn up in the atmosphere, but about a dozen pieces weighing 3 to 5 pounds each, plus one piece weighing about 100 pounds, are expected to come back down to Earth.
The debris could hit anywhere on Earth from 28 degrees north to 28 degrees south of the Equator. Nearly 80% of that area is water. If the pieces do hit land, they could land in an area that includes the extreme southern portion of the United States, Africa, Australia, and Central and South America.
A National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokeswoman said the most likely date for the re-entry is Saturday.