Paul Maley’s SPACE DEBRIS PAGE
Message to readers: if you are aware of any other unique space debris falls where photos are available, kindly email me such reference information. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of each event to the extent possible. On this page, where internet sources are listed, it is likely that after a while some of these links will no longer work. Unfortunately that is a consequence of such references. Please notify me of errors/ommissions within this page (by email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Space debris can fall anywhere!
The reentry of ATV-4 as seen from the International Space Station Nov 2, 2013.
The final (nondestructive) reentry of the Space Shuttle (STS-135) as seen from the International Space Station on July 21, 2011.
Space debris might be defined as material orbiting the Earth that has outlived its useful lifetime. We employ this term to cover a) satellites that have become inactive, b) discarded rocket bodies, c) small pieces of material jettisoned or having flaked off spacecraft, d) small objects that are the results of collisions or explosions in space, or e) portions of payload fairings and other material that fall off an ascending rocket on its way into space. Some very old satellites have been known to ‘shed’ small pieces decades after they were launched into space.
In addition to documenting cases where debris was located on Earth, we also include cases of ‘debris’ sites on the Moon and Mars.
NOT SPACE DEBRIS
Sometimes what seems to pass for space debris is actually something else. In the images below, parts of an inertial measurement unit were found in the remnants of an old building in Wisconsin in early 2010 and were initially thought to be pieces of a rocket. Upon closer inspection there are no burn marks. Although the unit was embedded partly into the earth, there is no direct evidence indicating that it reentered the atmosphere.
A more recent case involved a 2013 release of information related to a 1978 reported debris find in New Zealand:
Throughout the 1970s, Canterbury was showered with space junk – some thought to be real; others proven to be fake. Metal balls found scattered on paddocks from Lake Aviemore to south of Ashburton in 1972 are widely thought to be of Soviet origin. In October 1978, two other pieces of space junk made headlines after they were found on the Eiffelton property of John Lovett. It was revealed that three of his friends found some old aluminium fish floats, scorched them with a welding torch and dumped them in his paddock.
Documents released by US public records agency MuckRock shows the lengths New Zealand scientsits had to go through to reach that conclusion. Communications from 1978 between the State Department and the US embassy in Wellington show the fishing floats went through radiation testing and were examined by scientists at the then Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR).
According to a message the embassy sent to the State Department in November 1978, an Ashburton milkman reported an object flying through the sky on October 23. ”John Lovett claims to have been in the paddock on October 22 and is certain the fragment, which was prominently located, was not in the paddock at that time.” A second message from the embassy said it was “suspect” that the ball landed only eight kilometres south of where the 1972 balls landed.
“DSIR’s advice … that the sphere was a silicon-aluminium alloy with a melting point of less than 600 degrees caused doubt that a space object with such a low melting point could survive re-entry … even if shielded,” it said.
“The discovery of a second sphere on November 5, however, seems to increase the likelihood that the objects are indeed space fragments … “‘ Scientists thought “magnetic globules” on the surface of the balls were molten steel. Later that month, they were found to be welded fishing floats.
One of the 1972 “real” space balls is now in the Ashburton Aviation Museum. Curator Jim Chivers said the US documents were a fascinating insight into the then government’s interest. ”The finding of the balls created a great deal of interest from the United States, with much informational data and photographs being requested by their space agency.” He said the level of interest from the US government was never known because all its information was classified “secret and confidential”.
“It appears from some of these no longer secret documents that it took quite some work before the hoax balls proved to be just that.” He said the perpetrators would have been pleased with their efforts.
“Had they known that as well as convincing John Lovett that he had found a spaceball, they almost fooled the American space agency as well … They would have been very pleased,” he said.
Other hoaxes have been attempted such as with a spherical ball similar to the one below. Although this one quite obviously is not a pressurized sphere that is easily mistaken for space debris (it is a welded fishing float that looks similar to a helium pressure tank), others have been.
REPORTING A REENTRY SIGHTING
A reentering spacecraft is similar to that of a meteor or small asteroid body with some notable differences. Many reports by local people, regardless of the country of origin, appear on YouTube or other public information source without basic critical pieces of information. The photo below is similar to what may be seen during a spectacular reentry.
A Russian SL4 rocket engages in a destructive reentry (where the rocket is basically destroyed by interaction with the Earth’s atmosphere) over Colorado January 4, 2007
While reentry of a spacecraft or piece of space debris can be quite startling and bright, it is possible that a piece or pieces of debris could survive this fiery process and be recovered. Space debris crashing into the ground may sometimes do damage to buildings, vehicles and other structures. The impacts of a large object disintegrating into a number of smaller ones may pose more of a threat to an urban environment depending on the mass of each fragment and whether there is any potentially explosive or toxic material surviving. It is usually the large mass and velocity that would pose a threat to people or animals. But the rarity of such death or injury is such as to be miniscule based on the entire history of past reentries since the beginning of the space age in 1957.
The general public will likely not be able to tell the difference between a satellite reentry and that of a meteor. But the tell tale signs are there. A satellite will generally (but not always) be travelling from the north, or northwest, or west, or southwest or south toward the opposing direction. The process will result in an initial slow appearance of a single bright object which will gradually break up into a number of fiery objects of varying brightnesses, some disappearing quickly with others surviving a lot longer.
News media may sometimes have advance knowledge and may publicize the possible reentry. The case of Cosmos 1220 on February 16, 2013 was one of those situations where this very large satellite was predicted to break up somewhere over the ocean. Instead its reentry was visible from a number of locations in Saudi Arabia. Within hours a number of separate videos from towns such as Mecca, Madina, Taif, Jiddah, and Hai’l. Some witnesses said it was moving from North to South.
In order to gather critical information that might aid in finding and recovering a piece of space debris, the following is needed from each observing location:
a. latitude and longitude of observer as derived from GPS or Google Earth
b. time (converted to GMT) of the observation; a description of how this time was obtained. For example, using a watch with a second hand, a clock on the wall, a calibrated time source.
c. direction of motion from beginning to end. It is important to know how the directions were obtained: using buildings as a reference, street layout, knowledge of the constellations, or guess work.
d. name(s) and email/phone of reporting observer(s)
e. description of what was seen including the presence of any sounds
e. video or time exposure photographs; information about the key reference points seen in the video such as structures, mountains, etc. from which directions can later be obtained.
f. astronomical experience (if any) of the reporting observer
g. degree of certainty or uncertainty in any of the information above
In most situations, it will not be possible to find any recoverable pieces. It is only in those exceptional cases where there are many reports along the entire reentry track as well as luck where one or more pieces may be found. Usually such debris is found within hours of its fall and only because someone was nearby and found it.
Space debris usually has a dozen or more fragments appearing along the trail, some appearing, then disappearing, others lasting along the entire flight path. The train of fragments may extend across the entire sky or vanish after 20 or 30 degrees. It depends on the location of the observer with respect to the reentry path. The amount of time spent in the sky could be from 20 seconds to 90 seconds, but this is just a guideline. Sonic booms are rarely heard.
For investigators with the skill, ability, resources and time to hunt for objects, the more reports with accurate details will enable the likelihood of recovery to occur. This is the same process that meteorite hunters might use to recover debris.
Fireballs that appear in the sky that are not space debris may come from any direction in the sky. Their speed is usually (but not always) faster than the slow moving train of space debris. They may break up into two or more noticeable fragments which travel in similar directions. The duration of such entries last anywhere from a second or two to perhaps 15 seconds. A smoke train may or may not be left in the sky and rarely a sonic boom might be heard.
To whom do you report the sighting? First go to this site: http://srop.falakcenter.com/
and using the FAQ, determine if it was a reentry or perhaps something else. If you think it was a reentry, then please submit a report through this site.
Posting videos on YouTube is one location. Generally someone with knowledge will spot this posting. Otherwise you should attempt to contact a local representative from perhaps a planetarium, observatory or astronomical society. Local news media may also be helpful in publicizing photos or accounts that could be noticed by responsible scientific bodies. Accuracy in reporting the above mentioned details is critical to helping determine the nature of what was seen and to eliminate other possibilities.
The term “reentry” is a misnomer. It implies that an object has entered an atmosphere, survived and is now entering again. Almost every satellite that encounters the atmosphere (unless it is designed to resist the heating of reentry) will either be partly or completely destroyed and will certainly not reenter. An exception has been the Space Shuttle or other human-operated craft. Another is a capsule that is engineered to land via parachute or other system that returns samples. Forces and heating during the process are such that man-made objects will have a hard time surviving the length of time, peak heating temperatures, and pressures involved in the high velocity encounter. When part of a satellite does survive it can take many unexpected forms, the most varied may be that of the Space Shuttle COLUMBIA which broke up about 40 miles above the earth’s surface in February 2003. All kinds of mechanical and electrical components, pieces of paper, clothes and even some human body parts were recovered; many were in ‘recognizable condition’. Other pieces or suspected pieces of debris may take a familiar form such as a metallic sphere. In Many instances space debris will have no markings.
Tabloids are known to sensationalize some debris falls such as in the image below.
Magazine cover “The mystery of the spheres”.
Accounts listed here are dated sometimes based on when I received the information or when documented and may not reflect the actual/estimated fall or recovery dates.
December 3, 2013: CHINESE ROCKET DEBRIS
What appears to be debris from the Jack Rabbit launch fell and wrecked a couple of houses. A resident told the Xiaoxiang Morning Post: “Three of the roof beams have crashed down on our house, and a big hole has been punched into our barn.”
Another said: “The huge sound scared the living daylights out of me.” Authorities paid around £1,100 in compensation to those affected. Worryingly this is not the first time it has happened. The county has been hit by debris nearly 20 times since the 1990s.
The unmanned Chang’3 3 lander and the Yutu rover lifted off atop a Long March 3D rocket early on December 2. 2013, local time, from the Xichang launch centre in Sichuan province.
July 15, 2013: DELTA ROCKET DEBRIS
“Three unidentified objects, which resemble rockets, have been discovered in different parts of the country this week after they fell with blasts.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said that on Sunday last week, villagers in Mulota Village 4 resettlement near Old Trauma Centre Zimplats Mine, Battlefields, heard a strange blast that was followed by a bang near their village.
She said the next day, one of the villagers, Mr Sylvester Manika discovered an unidentified object in the bush and alerted other villagers. The matter was reported to Battlefields Police Station.
“Police attended the scene and noted that the unidentified object, which resembles a rocket and is made of metal and aluminium material, is three metres long and has a diameter of 1,8 metres,” said Snr Asst Comm Charamba.
“Police also discovered that the bolts used to fasten the objects are inscribed NAS 13004-41CS.”
Objects were identified July 31, 2013 by Jonathan McDowell as part of the Symphonie 2 rocket launched on a Delta 2 vehicle. Launched August 27, 1975.
May 4, 2013: ARIANE DEBRIS
“The mysterious discovery made on Trinidad’s south coast on Saturday, may be debris from a rocket ship or satellite. The debris likely came from a space-craft that lifted off in French Guiana on the east coast of South America. Director General of the Trinidad and Tobago Civil Aviation Authority Ramesh Lutchmedial said this was the report he received from the authority’s inspectors who visited the site and examined the debris.
Lutchmedial said : ‘Rockets from the French-based firm Arianespace are launched in French Guiana. Stages of rockets would jettison into the ocean and they are washed ashore sometimes. Ever so often a piece washes ashore. And it is not from an aircraft, it is one of the stages that the aircraft goes through’.
Penal Police said they were contacted by a lifeguard who made the discovery while jogging along the beach near Morne Diablo. ‘It is not harmful to the public in any way. I must commend the public for their civic mindedness to call the authorities which is something that we encourage. That when someone sees something that has fallen off an aircraft they call us and we can investigate’, said Lutchmedial.
According to the website www.space.com, the Ariane 5 rocket, blasted off from French Guiana around dusk on February 7 carrying telecommunications satellites for two different clients.
Debris from the booster rockets that detach during launch, have washed up on the coast of Trinidad and Barbados in the past.”
February, 2013: PRESSURE SPHERES OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN
A titanium pressure sphere was found by Dean Gentz in Buna, TX USA on or before February 20, 2013. The sphere was spotted on his property near an oak tree and was sitting in place for some unknown period of time before it was noticed; therefore, the precise date of its appearance is not known. Due to the condition of the soil, there were numerous holes in the ground and there was no way to tell if it had landed and then rolled to its discovered location.
The sphere at its discovery location by Dean Gentz is shown in the above image.
The sphere is similar in size, diameter, and circumference to that of the Namibia sphere of November 2011 described below, thus leading to the suggestion that it might be Russian in manufacture. There was no visual sighting of any kind. Mr. Gentz conducted a metallurgical analysis and determined the following composition: 91.25% titanium, 4.7% vanadium oxide, 2.05% silicon, .098% iron, .015% zinc, .013% molybdenum.
Sphere overview photo by Dean Gentz
The composition is consistent with titanium 6-4 based on the PMI (Powder Metallurgy International) machine analysis. Weight of the sphere was found to be 16 lb (7.3 kg) and the circumference was 43.25 inches (17.02 cm), diameter 13.75 inches (5.41cm).
Photos of the Buna sphere show details of apparent ablation, burn marks, and pitting. There is a plug at both ends. The one shown above is melted.
The photo above shows what appears to be a hexagonal nut with small safety wire holes. There are also what seems to be the numbers “413″ engraved on the side.
The image above shows the seam around the periphery of the sphere. All photos taken by Dean Gentz.
The mystery surrounding this sphere became even more complex when a second sphere was discovered on March 10 about 1 mile (1.6km) from the first sphere.
On March 6 a third sphere was found also close by and reported to me on March 19.
Buna spheres 1 and 3
Google Earth was used to identify the positions of all the spheres. In the course of this, the GE image was updated to February 28, the day after the decay of a possible reentry debris candidate 2012-021C. Sphere#3 may be that object located in the following image.
Google Earth image possibly showing Sphere#3 and its shadow.
On April 16, quite by accident a fourth sphere was reported about 1.5 miles (<3km) from sphere#1.
Buna sphere#4 was discovered in woods
Buna spheres 1 and 4
The spheres have these aspects in common: all were found within 2 miles of one another, all are made of titanium, all have a welded equatorial band, all have the same diameter and circumference as well as empty weight, all show ‘signs’ of possible ablation, all (except for sphere#1) show no markings, all have two ‘plugs’ at opposite ends where one plug appears melted, the other is a 6-sided nut that appeared more or less intact. One space debris candidate suggested is the CZ-4B Chinese 3rd stage rocket (2012-21C) which reentered over the area on February 27. However, the discovery date of sphere#1 conflicts with that date. The evidence of space debris is intriguing but circumstantial. As of April 26, the investigation continues.
Google Earth map showing the approximate locations of the 4 Buna, TX spheres.
Partial source: http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Buna-man-thinks-he-found-space-debris-in-his-yard-4385932.php
Paul Maley and spheres 1, 2, and 4 (left to right), in order of their discovery. Sphere 3 was not available at the time.
January 31, 2013: ARIANE PAYLOAD FAIRING
There is uncertainty in the reporting timeline due to the source of the online description being a blog. However, parts of an Ariane rocket payload fairing appear to have been carried by currents to the shores of Mexico where it washed up on the beach” in Mahahual, 400km south of Cancun, Mexico, close to the border with Belize. [See a similar account below November 4, 2009. ] It is about 2cm thick, and several meters long. It appears to have a Kevlar covering over an aluminum body made up of thousands of wafers, like a heat sink.” according to the description. Source: http://www.reddit.com/r/space/comments/17pnk2/a_massive_chunk_of_the_ariane_v_space_rocket/
The full panel view
Apparent location of the panel in the assembly bay and during launch.
The piece was turned over and placed next to a nearby road
Additional identifying markings which may be important in linking specific parts to a launch.
January 6, 2013 ARIANE V ROCKET DEBRIS
Pieces of metal washed ashore on Crane Beach in Barbados. The debris was incorrectly identified as pieces of an Ariane V booster launched on December 19, 2012. “Those sections that were found were components of the covering for the booster rocket which, following the launch, will be separated from the rocket and return to earth and should not normally disintegrate. However on contact with the water on this occasion, this one broke,”
After further investigation it was learned that the identity of the Soyuz ST VS04 launch could be derived from one of the panels as in the next image.
A key piece of evidence to linking a piece of Soyuz ST VS04 launch debris is in the lettering. The above letters “de” reveal that this payload fairing was associated with Soyuz ST VS 04 ( carrying the Pléiades 1B satellite) launched on December 1, 2012.
The PLEIADES decal being applied in the clean room prior to launch.
The debris as found on the beach by retired Air Canada Pilot, Angelo Lorio
Ministry of Defense lettering
A large section of the fairing
Debris pieces in perspective
Source: Aviation & Aerospace Consultant, www.linkedin.com/pub/captain-don-g-chee-a-tow/15/894/889/ Captain Don G. Chee-A-Tow, Honorary Consul of France to Barbados, Special Representative for Caribbean Affairs at EDU.INT
December 17, 2012 LUNAR CRASH OF ‘EBB’ AND ‘FLOW
Two probes released from the Grail spacecraft orbiting the moon in 2012 were called Ebb and Flow. Ebb and Flow deliberately plunged into a lunar mountain in December after mapping the moon’s gravity field in unprecedented detail. The location was chosen because it was far away from the Apollo landings and other historic sites.
Crash site before (below)
Crash site after (below)
October 2012: PROTON BOOSTER DEBRIS
This piece of debris, found recently in a Rooks County (Kansas) farm field, is a piece of space junk from a Russian rocket. Holding the space junk is Doug Wereb, a former space science educator at the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson, who said the debris is part of the fourth stage of a Russian proton rocket that was launched Friday, Oct. 13 from Kazakstan.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the show on Friday, Oct. 13, was the fourth stage of a Russian proton rocket launched that day from Kazakstan.
And Doug Wereb, an adjunct faculty member at Butler and Cowley County community colleges, says Rush County farmer Craig Rixon found fragments of the Russian rocket. Goddard Space Flight Center’s Networks and Mission Services confirmed the launch and decay of the satellite late Tuesday.
Wereb, who is a former space science educator at the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson, was called on to identify the space junk. Rixon said he saw the pieces in the sky, but didn’t have any idea where they fell until days later.
“I was out fixing fence and stumbled across it,” he said. “It was in a place you couldn’t drive with the pickup.” He said the fragments caught his attention because they looked so unusual.
“It didn’t look like it should be there,” he said. “I thought it might have been part of what flew over. That was the first thing that crossed my mind.”
Rixon called Rush County Sheriff Jack Mendenhall, who had seen the sky light up while at a high school football game in La Crosse. ”Everybody in the stadium saw it,” Mendenhall said of the phenomenon that lit up the sky. “Pieces of it flared off to the sides like a Roman candle.”
Mendenhall thought it was an aircraft dropping flares, but as it passed overhead, he saw a big smoke trail. ”I had no idea what it was,” he said. “What convinced me that it was something burning up was the smoke trail. You could see it burning, and it was bright.” After Mendenhall got Rixon’s call, he shipped the sample to Wereb, who has identified many meteorites, and astronomy teacher Rob Kuhn, director of the McConnell Air Force Base branch of Butler County Community College.
Wereb said the largest piece recovered was about a foot-and-a-half long and 8 inches wide. A second piece was 10 inches long and about 6 inches wide. Numerous small fragments were scattered on the ground.
Wereb identified the space junk by its appearance and odor. ”It looks like a burnt-up rocket casing, it smells like a burnt-up casing, and it was found where one came down,” he said. But, Wereb said, the pieces found in Rush County are just a small part of the 10- by 14-foot rocket. Most of it burned up in the sky, Wereb said.
August 7, 2012 MARS CURIOSITY ROVER DEBRIS
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity was a bit of a litter bug as it wrapped up its 352-million mile (566-million kilometer) journey early Monday and headed toward a landing inside Gale Crater, an ancient impact basin that is home to a towering mound of sedimentary rock. From a vantage point about 186 miles (300 kilometers) above the planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, known by its acronym MRO, surveyed the scene, providing documentation (in case NASA ever faces littering charges) of Curiosity’s discarded heat shield, parachute and sky crane.
Various debris components from the Mars rover mission.
July 7, 2012: AGENA ROCKET PRESSURE SPHERE
I received an account from the 1970s that describes a metal sphere that landed in Sweden. Source: Rolf Arvidsson. Mr. Arvidsson reports:
“The metal “ball” was found in the early 1970′s (?) by Forest Officer Poul Neergaard-Petersen (1923-2003) in a remote bog some 5-7 km SW of Torup in south western Sweden. He brought it home and it was placed as a garden decoration. He and his wife Karen thought it was dropped from the bomber streams (RAF and USAAF) on their way to Germany during WW2.
In early June 2012 Karen contacted Torkel Fagerström, aviation historian, and he contacted me, Rolf Arvidsson, also an aviation historian.
The husband of the nice lady in one of the pictures, … found it some forty years ago. He passed away in 2003, so it will not be possible to have a more exact date. It is still “in safe hands” in Sweden. The perimeter is 133 cm, so the diameter must be 42 cm (133 / 3.14). There is also one line saying: 21.40 LBS. I estimated the weight to approx. 10 kgs, and it corresponds well to the weight in lbs. There is also some small signs of melted metal on the surface. No part of the “ball” is magnetic…There is quite a lot of more writing on the surface, but hard to read. We have tried IR-light without success.“
Given the ablative appearance on parts of the sphere and the writing, the NASA Johnson Space Center Orbital Debris Office suggests that this object is likely a GN2 tank from an Agena rocket stage. Identification with a particular space mission is unknown although the following three missions are candidates: 1961-001B, 1964-052B, and 1967-073B.
March 21, 2012: RUSSIAN ICBM DEBRIS
A piece of what possibly might be part of a Russian ICBM launched from Baikonour fell on December 27, 2011 near Kuybyshev in Siberia. The debris piece weighed 200kg and was measured as 2m in height; it hit the roof of a house. Source: http://www.nsk.kp.ru/daily/25854/2822919 and http://news.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474981207814
An account stated:
“Locals insist the metallic object – resembling a large shiny rubbish bin – fell from the skies. The object is six feet long and is at least partially made of titanium steel.
It’s now under police guard as interest in the ‘visitor’ intensifies. It was found near a village called Otradnensky some two thousand miles and three time zones east of Moscow.
The Russian media immediately claimed ‘fragments of a UFO’ were discovered in the remote forest. Locals had heard strange sounds in the thick woodland in December, it was claimed. But it was only on Sunday that the find was reported to local police who then alerted Moscow.
Yuri Bornyakov, head of rescue service department of Kuibyshevski district of Novosibirsk region, said: ‘We measured the radiation level near and inside the object. We found no radiation here.’
February 22, 2012: PRESSURE SPHERE
On February 22, 2012 a spherical object (titanium sphere) fell from the sky this morning in the city of Anapurus-MA Brazil, 28km away from the town of Chapadinha. The fall of the object, so far unidentified occurred around 06:00 this morning in the village wells, property of Mr. “Iron Leg”.
A large metallic ball fell out of the sky on a remote grassland in Namibia, prompting baffled authorities to contact NASA and the European space agency.
The hollow ball with a circumference of 1.1 metres (43 inches) was found near a village in the north of the country some 750 kilometres (480 miles) from the capital Windhoek, according to police forensics director Paul Ludik.
Locals had heard several small explosions a few days beforehand, he said.
The sphere fell on Wednesday in a village of Riacho dos Poços in Brazilian Maranhão state. No casualties were reported apart from an unfortunate cashew tree that was severed by the object as it plunged to the ground, according to MR Notícias, a Mata Roma news site.
Valdir José Mendes, 46, told police the sphere landed several meters from his house leaving a one-meter-deep hole in the yard.
“I heard the noise and I went out to see what caused it. I thought it was a plane that had fallen, or an earthquake,” he said.
The noise was such that Mendes was too scared to go outside. However, curiosity got the better of him and he headed outside to find the cashew tree’s trunk snapped in half by a mysterious metal sphere lying in a hole nearby. Some 20 villagers joined Mendes to help him extract the object from the ground and examine it. Mendes says the sphere is hollow and if shaken some sort of liquid can be felt swishing inside. Locals quickly spread the news, as they reached the town of Mata Roma over 2,000 people flocked to see the “UFO”.
With a diameter of 35 centimetres (14 inches) and weighing 5.9kg (1.98lb) the ball has a rough surface and appears to consist of “two halves welded together”.
It was made of a “metal alloy known to man” and weighed six kilogrammes (13 pounds), said Ludik.
Two images above courtesy http://rt.com/news/sphere-ufo-space-brazil-103/
It was found 18 metres from its landing spot, a hole 33 centimetres deep and 3.8 meters wide.”
November 17, 2011: CHINESE SPACE CAPSULE
The Shenzhou spacecraft carries Chinese astronauts to and from space. The photo below is the reentry capsule after landing. Technically it is space debris once it hits the ground. Shenzou 8 capsule is shown below.
October 21, 2011: SOYUZ ROCKET CASING
The next 3 images found in the Tobago Keys show debris is part of the mechanism that encased a Russian-built Soyuz rocket, which was used to launch two Galileo satellites for the European Space Agency on Oct. 21, from Kourou, French Guiana
Source: Searchlight newspaper Feb.2012.
When investigating what appears to be space debris it is important to photograph identifiable markings as well as the debris itself, being careful to not move any debris from the original fall location(s) until after documentation has occurred. Cell phones can be particularly useful if cameras are not available for documentation.
August 2011: DELTA II DEBRIS RECOVERY IN MONGOLIA
In August of 2011 US Air Force personnel were sent to Mongolia to pick up pieces of a Delta II rocket that crashed there.
This account describes the operation: “There was no beeping noise as the pickup truck laden with rocket parts backed up to the C-17 Globemaster III at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in late August. It was just a Mongolian driver and a U.S. Air Force loadmaster using hand signals to communicate.
An Air Force Reserve crew from the 729th Airlift Squadron flew to Mongolia to retrieve debris from a Delta II rocket launch a year earlier. Retrieval was necessary under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Rescue and Return Treaty of 1968.
The 15-person crew included three pilots, four loadmasters, two aerial porters and, just to be safe, a six-person maintenance crew with a pallet of spare parts and equipment for the C-17 Globemaster III, retreived a second-stage fuel tank and two hydrogen sphere, then returned the debris to the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. “
Compare the photos above to those of other Delta II debris in the MSX reentry account earlier.
Sources: http://www.afrc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123272798 and http://www.march.afrc.af.mil/photos/mediagallery.asp?galleryID=1197
August 2011: SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA DEBRIS FIND
Eight years after the Columbia disaster during the Texas drought, the lake level in Lake Nacogdoches, Texas dropped such that a new piece of Columbia debris was found.
The sphere was one of 18 cryogenic tanks Columbia carried during its 16-day mission. It had been underwater for the past eight and half years, having landed there Feb. 1, 2003, when the shuttle broke up over east Texas during re-entry. It was uncovered recently when the lake’s water level diminished by about 11 feet during an ongoing drought. Source: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/columbiatankfound.html
August 2011: RUSSIAN ROCKET PANEL
The US Coast Guard reportedly discovered this curved panel in the Tobago Keys in August 2011.
MARCH 19, 2011: ZENIT 3F STAGE 2 ROCKET DEBRIS
A pressure sphere from a Russian rocket stage was recovered in Wyoming, USA on March 21. (Source: Craig Daily Press, Craig CO, April 9, 2011). The rocket was launched January 20, 2011 associated with the Electro-L mission.
Titanium sphere photo by Elizabeth Campbell. It was discovered by Wyoming resident Robert Dunn who reportedly found the tank while still warm to the touch (see next image).
Photo by Elizabeth Campbell. The tank was determined to be 30 inches (12cm) in diameter and left a crater about 12 inches (4.8cm) deep and three feet (14.4cm) wide.
Robert Dunn poses with the sphere in its resident location. Elizabeth Campbell photo.
The condition of the tank appears to be fairly good with a depression on the right lower side. Photo by Michelle Balleck.
October 2010: CHANG’E II ROCKET DEBRIS
On October 1 residents of two separate villages in Jiangxi, China, awoke to very large pieces of the lunar probe Chang’e II’s launch rocket falling back to earth around them.
Villagers in the area awoke last night to quite a ruckus, thinking that an earthquake was underway. Upon exploration, they instead found what appears to be a sizeable chunk of the rocket used to launch Chang’e II toward the moon in a launch on Friday. Fortunately, the debris fell harmlessly onto rural land, injuring no one and causing no property damage.
June 13, 2010: HAYABUSA-1 ASTEROID SAMPLE RETURN MISSION
The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa reentered the earth’s atmosphere over central Australia on June 13, 2010 after a 7 year, 4.5 billion kilometer journey. I set up a ground station at the Coober Pedy (South Australia) airport using a 75mm lens and image intensifier to record the planned reentry. However, trouble with the hardware made it impossible to capture a complete record of the occurrence. Both cameras and their mounting plate disappeared from my luggage between Houston, Texas and Adelaide, Australia. With only 2 days left after this discovery I located 3 c-mount cameras in a box of junk stored in a hotel in Coober Pedy. The cameras (courtesy of Dean Clee, Comfort Inn), covered with dust, had apparently never been used. Instead of having no usable system, I now was able to cobble together two working sets of equipment with still some last minute challenges. After brief night testing and focusing problems, some issues were overcome literally in the last critical hour prior to reentry. Skies were amazingly clear despite earlier dismal forecasts for overcast skies.
In spite of the GPS time signal coming in clearly and appearing to be inserted into the video stream, the video camera (PAL format) would not display it. After the fact it was determined that the Canon camcorder (NTSC format) recorded only the first 226 lines of each frame but the KIWI OSD time inserter writes the text beginning on line 278 (per the PAL format). Also and more critically, in order to achieve perfect focus the end product images displayed on the small camcorder screen were not erect images. This made it impossible to lock on to the initial field of view in time and made it very difficult to track consistently as guiding had to be accomplished manually.
Tracking was accomplished for about 15 seconds until the very short power chord of the primary camera was inadvertently severed in the dark as a result of the rapid manual tracking required for Hayabusa cutting off the video. Yet, some useful optical video data was collected. Here are a few stills from the video capture courtesy of R.Nugent who captured it using LIMOVIE. The orientation of the frame grabs were then adjusted to show the way they would have appeared as erect images from my Coober Pedy airport location north of the Hayabusa ground track:
November 4, 2009: ARIANE PAYLOAD FAIRING
A piece of Ariane V payload fairing was discovered on a beach on the Yucatan, Mexico approximately halfway between Cancun and the Belize border. The fairing is quite similar, though not as large, as one that washed up also in Mexico in January 2013. It was 4 to 5 meters long and about 1.5 meters in length.
Payload fairing fragment
The serial number AR5547 is believed to be linked to the TerreStar-1 launch July 1, 2009.
Payload fairing with people to show perspective.
Sylda antenna nomenclature
Beachside location where the fairing was originally found.
2009: PRESSURE SPHERES
Several spheres were found in Kazakstan May 14, 2009.
2009 PRESSURE SPHERE ON INTERNET
Sometimes you can find them advertised for sale on the internet as in the photo below.
Titanium sphere advertised for sale in 2009.
Note the indentation where straps holding it in place outside the spacecraft or rocket stage. The sphere diameter was measured as 13.779 inches (350mm) and weight 16.5 lb (7.5kg). A collector site advertised this and stated ” The numbers 015293 and 98 3 were stamped in to the flats of each connection point. ts connection point is fitted with a high precision thread that still works so perfectly that, when done up finger tight, creates an airtight seal without an “o” ring or thread sealant. “
2008 PRESSURE SPHERE
Discoverd in Mexico (location not known) this object is in private hands. It has sustained damage at both ends. Source: http://www.openminds.tv/the-space-balls-a-case-of-mistaken-identity-854/
A single pressure sphere on display. Credit: Open Minds Production.
2008: TITANIUM SPHERE
This casing (above) was found by A. Taylor while flying over an area in Australia in 2008 surveying cattle. From markings it was determined to be part of a Delta 2 rocket that launched INSAT 1B in 1990. Depending on the remoteness of the area it is not uncommon for objects never to be discovered or discovered decades after they have entered the atmosphere.
2008 PRESSURE SPHERE
Does this look familiar? Another similar object fell in Rio Goias, Brazil around March 24, 2008.
On September 29, 2008, the European Space Agency’s ATV-1 reentered the atmosphere at the end of its mission to resupply the ISS. An airborne observing campaign was organized to monitor the reentry from two aircraft (P.I.: Peter Jenniskens, SETI Institute). I had proposed to the ATV Project in 2002 that the reentry of the first flight of this new, unflown vehicle should be considered for monitoring and reentry documentation. In late 2007, Jason Hatton of ESA/ESTEC and Peter Jenniskens proposed a way to do this with help of NASA Ames and NASA Dryden aircraft. ESA funded the flight of two airplanes loaded with instrumentation to intercept the entry path.
Two experiments I proposed were flown onboard a Gulfstream aircraft and used by Ed Barker to obtain more than 3 minutes of video. An image sequence is shown below. These photos were extracted from an 8mm video shot with a 75mm objective lens and image-intensified. The imagery was obtained when the Gulfstream was about 13,000m altitude and were provided courtesy of the NASA Orbital Debris Office.
2007 PRESSURE SPHERE
Then there are these images from James Stirten who found this object 54 cm wide and weighing 20kg in 2007 at a location about 800km west of Brisbane, Australia.
2006: LAUNCH DEBRIS FROM KAZAKHSTAN
The people who live in the village of Korgon in Russia periodically have rocket debris which falls in their area.
Source: http://www.storee.se/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1428:Bombarded by Space Debris
The above piece of debris was recovered and is technically not space debris in that it came down during the ascent process.
January 15, 2006: STARDUST
A capsule carrying intersetellar dust reentered the earth’s atmosphere at 12km/second and was protected by an ablative material which resulted in the successful recovery of its contents. The landing was on January 15, 2006 after a six year trip.
Above is an image of a PAM-D casing found in Thailand. According to the NASA Orbital Debris Newsletter:
“For the third time in four years, a PAM-D (Payload Assist Module – Delta) solid rocket motor casing has been recovered after an uncontrolled atmospheric reentry. Coincidentally, all three reentries occurred during the month of January in the years 2001, 2004, and 2005. All were also utilized in the deployment of NAVSTAR spacecraft for the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).
The most recent event occurred on 13 January 2005 when the NAVSTAR 49 PAMD (2000-071C, U.S. Satellite Number 26607) reentered over Asia. The titanium casing of the STAR-48B solid rocket motor was subsequently found near Bangkok, Thailand (Figure 1). The egg-shaped object had a diameter of 1.2 m and a mass of more than 50 kg and closely resembled the casings found in Saudi Arabia in January 2001 and in Argentina in January 2004.
“The Star-48 rocket motor, which is connected to the satellite until the motor is done firing, completed its mission and began orbiting the Earth. The titanium rocket motor casing reentered Earth’s atmosphere Jan. 13, 2005. The motor landed in the rural province of Chachoengsa, Thailand (about 100 km east of Bangkok), and reportedly bounced approximately 200 meters. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries or damages. Shortly thereafter, the local Thai police recovered the debris, and Thai government officials shortly began making plans to put the debris in a museum. However, the U.S. Department of State and its embassy staff in Bangkok began negotiations with Thai officials to recover the rocket motor and have it returned to the United States for reentry orbit analysis.
1st Lt. Cassandra Putman, Delta II Propulsion and Ordnance Office, took charge in getting the debris returned to the Space and Missle Systems Center. Local Pacific Air Forces reservist, Maj. Mike Zellmer, who has logistics experience in Thailand, contacted the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group, Thailand, and advised them of the situation. The cooperation with JUSMAGTHAI was the catalyst that set the recovery and movement efforts back to the United States in motion.
JUSMAGTHAI coordinated all transfer agreements with the Thai government and arranged movement of the debris back to the United States while Lt Putman managed and monitored the recovery effort from here at SMC.
Just as the debris was being manifested and load-planned for an Air Mobility Command mission back to U.S. soil, the Thai government was hit with a political coup. However, the coup proved to be relatively benign to the recovery mission there and the debris was airlifted after a short hiatus. “
Each launch of a NAVSTAR spacecraft left a PAM-D in a highly elliptical orbit of approximately 200 km by 20,000 km. During the period January 2001 through January 2005, a total of 10 of these rocket bodies, with ages ranging from 3 to 10 years, reentered with a 30 percent recovery rate, a rate consistent with the ratio of Earth’s land to water area. Orbital inclinations of the 10 stages ranged from 22deg to 39deg, limiting reentries to between 39deg North and 39deg South latitude.”
January 20, 2004: TITANIUM SPHERE
A titanium rocket casing fell near the town of San Roque, Argentina January 20, 2004. It was measured to be 3.m around, 1.6m long, 1.4m wide weighing about 45kg. Boeing serial numbers A41-8106037501-S or 1060370-501F (information is not clear) were identified:
The recovered debris is believed from a Delta launch October 26, 1993 to place the NAVSTAR-34 GPS into orbit. Note the similarity in the physical appearance of the picture on the lower left in this sequence and the image which landed in Saudi Arabia.
Accounts indicate that the object leaked a yellow liquid. No injuries were reported from the impact which occurred in the afternoon in a field belonging to the Bolo family 15km from the city of San Roque.
Thanks to Luis Augusto Reggiardo for the above information.
September 2004: GENESIS
Another capsule landed and was recovered but not in good shape since the spacecraft parachute failed to deploy properly. Landing occurred September 2004.
An oxidizer tank was found near Belem (Para), Brazil in August 2006 related to the reentry of Telstar 402 which occurred November 14, 2004. It measured about 80 cm in diameter and was 1m in height. The owner of a farm found this tank 2 years after the actual reentry. The tank probably belonged to the Ariane 3rd stage rocket.
Note the marking from GE Astrospace.
On April 27, 2003 at 1535UT several pieces of an Atlas rocket stage launched in 1998 fell on a farm in Mataquesquintla, Jalapa, Guatemala.
November 2003: CHINESE FSW IMAGERY SATELLITES
Fanhui Shi Weixing (FSW, 返回式卫星), or “recoverable satellite” in its English translation, is a series of remote-sensing satellites launched and operated by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Between 1974 and 2006, there were a total of 24 FSW satellites in six variants being launched, of which 22 were recovered successfully.
Above is a photo of an FSW reentry capsule after its landing.
A Chinese satellite capable of imaging from space and returning those images in a recoverable capsule is another example of a reentry. However, this one is non-destructive in nature. The photo above shows an example of a normal recovery of this capsule. This one was launched November 3, 2003 and landed some 18 days later in Sichuan Province, China.
Sometimes the capsule does not land nominally. FSW 3-3 was a recoverable, photo-imaging spacecraft that was launched on 27 September 2004. Its purpose was advertised to be used in scientific research, geological surveying, and mapping. After its 18 day mission the capsule returned to Earth on October 15, suspended on its parachute, crashed through the roof of a house in the village of Penglai, Sichuan province.
February 1, 2003: SHUTTLE COLUMBIA DEBRIS
Although I have a separate page for STS-107 reentry debris, the following are some representative examples of pieces that survived reentry.
Fuel Cell (as you scroll down through this page you will see how familiar this shape is for objects that have survived reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere)
2002: PRESSURE TANK
While we cannot be sure of the identity of this fragment, it looks very much like the Foton debris above and was found in Brazil (courtesy Jose Ildefonso) and derived from a web page by Flavio Tobler. This first object was found in Piaui, Brazil in 2002.
This second object was also found in Brazil in 2001.
The above image is of a large fragment that survived reentry on January 12, 2001 after falling in Saudi Arabia. It is from a Delta rocket third stage motor casing. There were no sonic booms or flashes in the night sky signalling its arrival. It was simply discovered lying in the sand, weighing some 70kg. This is a titanium case and located inside a PAM-D (payload assist module). This particular module gives the satellite payload its final thrust and allows for some positioning maneuvers in orbit to release the spacecraft properly. The PAM-D completes its task and becomes space junk, eventually decaying from orbit. The following images shows an intact PAM-D connected to a satellite in the Space Shuttle cargo bay being deployed.
March 23, 2001: MIR Space Station
Here is an example of a reentry of the famous Russian station Mir in March 2001 that should not have been seen from a populated area; but it is not always possible to plan and control a reentering, massive spacecraft. This photo was taken in daylight from Fiji. Note how the ground track came very close to a large island in Fiji resulting in the successive image.(courtesy R.Matson).
April 2000: DELTA ROCKET DEBRIS
One such as this one fell in South Africa (courtesy W.Koorts) and these parts were located in a museum outside of Capetown in April 2000. What was found was a steel propellant tank (1.7 x 2.7 m, mass 270 kg), a titanium pressure sphere (diameter 0.58 m, mass 32 kg), and a composite combustion chamber (0.76 m long, average width 0.25 m). The small titanium sphere and larger tank are two parts that ‘typically’ survive reentry. This is at least the 3rd such instance where both parts were recovered. (See the top two photos on this page)
April 2000: UNKNOWN DEBRIS
Theodore Solomons sits next to the metal ball that he saw fall from the sky on a farm close to Worcester, South Africa about 150 km outside of Cape Town. A second metal ball dropped out of the sky the following day about 50 km outside of Cape Town.
March 2000: ARIANE NOSE CONE
The French space agency acknowledged that a nose cone that washed up near Corpuse Christi, Texas USA belonged to a space launch October 22, 1998 from Kourou, Frency Guiana. The nose cone drifted with ocean currents for nearly two years before being found by beachcombers Barney Corey and Benjamin Curcuru who towed it to a mobile home park in Port Aransas intending to use it for a hot tub. Though it washed up on Mustang Island, CNES expressed interest in getting it back. A local spa company decided to deliver a 7×7 foot spa shell to Corey worth USD$600 anyway. The nose cone was from an Ariane 5 booster rocket.
Photo showing the nose cone from Victoria Advocate March 4, 2000
Source of text account: Bangor Daily News March 14, 2000
1999: ARIANE V PAYLOAD FAIRING
Debris washed up on on Crane Beach in Barbados. The debris, which appears to be an Ariane payload fairing, was dragged into a cave used by Barbados defense forces and has been removed since these images were taken.
Possible payload fairing in a cave. Photo by Stephen Mendes
Payload fairing interior view
Source: http://bajans.com/src.htm and personal communications with Stephen Mendes.
January 27, 1997: DELTA II ROCKET
Another form of space debris is that which reenters the earth’s atmosphere and is recovered on the ground. An example of this is the rocket carrier from the satellite known as the Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) launched in 1996. MSX rode atop a Delta rocket. Because the MSX satellite used the Space Shuttle as a target for some of its sensors, it was considered a ‘payload’ to be followed at the NASA Johnson Space Center. I was designated as the project engineer for MSX at the time. On January 22, 1997, the Delta rocket carrier fell to earth near Georgetown and Seguin, Texas.
Original location of Delta tank as found near Georgetown, Texas
1995: EXPRESS-1 CAPSULE
Express-1 was a Japanese materials science satellite. It was launched on January 15, 1995. At first thought not to have reached orbit. Later reentry vehicle was discovered in Ghana having reentered and deployed its parachute on Jan 15.
Express reentry vehicle.
December 1994: COSMOS 2267
Near Cosala Mexico a piece of Cosmos 2267 that decayed from orbit in December 1994 was found and displayed; it is 2.4 x 2.4 m with a 20kg mass.
1991: MOLNIYA PRESSURE SPHERE
“The artifact, a hollow sphere, was sent to a meteorite dealer and collector, by friends in Australia . It
was recovered from a junk yard, where it had sat for almost eight years after it was discovered on a beach near Albany in South Australia (35.0″5, I 18.0″E).
The object carries no identifying markings. It is 90 cm in circumference, with a thickened polar cap on one side, and a screw fitting with a metric thread on the other. The threaded section is 42 mm in diameter, and bears a hole 8mm in diameter. The whole thing weighs 6 kg.”
Source: JOURNAL OF THE BRITISH INTERPLANETARY SOCIETY, VOL. 52, pp.439-442, 1999.
February 7, 1991: SALYUT 7/KOSMOS 1686 HELIUM PRESSURE SPHERES
This is another titanium pressure sphere used to hold helium apparently from the Russian Salyut 7-Cosmos 1686 spacecraft assembly which went out of control and fell to Earth as a fireball years earlier than expected. Controllers put the spacecraft into a spin and tried to control the impact into the Atlantic Ocean as 70kg of fuel still remained onboard. This attempt failed and after a bright fireball that was witnessed by many local people, some fragments fell near the town of Capitan Bermudez, 400 km from Buenos Aires, Argentina at 01:00 local time on 7th February 1991.
The 14 inch diameter, 7.4 kg, mostly titanium sphere is peppered with several hundred perfectly formed craters caused by tiny micrometeoroids which impacted on the surface during it’s many years in space. Opposing ends have a mounting rod and a coupling/inlet valve respectively – each has ablated heavily during re-entry and streamers of molten material have been blown back onto the leading faces of the sphere, clearly showing the orientation of flight. Dark scorching on one side of the main body is evidence that the sphere “flipped” during flight as external mountings and couplings broke/ablated away, and for a brief few moments this side was the leading edge before orienting itself once more. This dark patch of side scorching also shows a much lighter coloured “shadow” band where another part of the spacecraft, or possibly the departing mounting rod, momentarily protected this part of the sphere from scorching…..and left an outline image of itself in the process.
Due to it’s almost perfectly spherical shape and the high melting point of it’s titanium chemistry, the main body of the sphere escaped complete ablation of it’s surface, thus preserving the many micrometeoroid craters.
However, the irregularly shaped mounting rod and the opposing coupling/inlet valve have a thick layer of dark fusion crust with fine flow lines that are similar to the surface of a freshly recovered iron meteorite. See the photo below.
A second helium tank from Salyut 7 was auctioned by Lyon Turnbull company. The description is identical to the previous sphere:
Salyut 7 Spacecraft – Helium Tank – fell 7th February 1991
This is a helium tank from the Russian Salyut 7-Cosmos 1686 (Kosmos 1686) spacecraft assembly, which went out of control and fell to Earth as a fireball, 3 to 4 years earlier than expected.
Russian mission control put the spacecraft into a spin and tried to control the impact into the Atlantic Ocean as 70kg of fuel still remained onboard. This attempt failed and after a bright fireball that was witnessed by many local people, some fragments fell near the town of Capitan Bermudez, 250 miles from Buenos Aires, Argentina at 01:00 local time on 7th February 1991.
The 14 inch diameter, 7.4 kg, mostly titanium sphere is peppered with several hundred perfectly formed craters caused by tiny micrometeoroids which impacted on the surface during it’s many years in space. Opposing ends have a mounting rod and a coupling/inlet valve respectively – each has ablated heavily during re-entry and streamers of molten material have been blown back onto the leading faces of the sphere, clearly showing the orientation of flight. Dark scorching on one side of the main body is evidence that the sphere ‘flipped’ during flight as external mountings and couplings broke/ablated away, and for a brief few moments this side was the leading edge before orienting itself once more. This dark patch of side scorching also shows a much lighter coloured ‘shadow’ band where another part of the spacecraft, or possibly the departing mounting rod, momentarily protected this part of the sphere from scorching, and left an outline image of itself in the process.
Due to its almost perfectly spherical shape and the high melting point of its titanium chemistry, the main body of the sphere escaped complete ablation of its surface, thus preserving the many micrometeoroid craters. However, the irregularly shaped mounting rod and the opposing coupling/inlet valve have a thick layer of dark fusion crust with fine flow lines that are similar to the surface of a freshly recovered iron meteorite.
Some of the crater ‘pits’ were undoubtedly caused by other parts of the spacecraft that were ablating in front of the spherical tank during atmospheric passage and also by other man-made orbiting debris from earlier space missions that impacted during its 9 plus years in space.
This tank has been the subject of much research into the composition of the craters at the Natural History Museum, London. A paper entitled: “Analysis of Impact Residues on Spacecraft Surfaces: Possibilities and Problems” has been written about this Salyut helium tank and was presented at the 3rd European Conference on Space Debris, with a proceedings paper.
Sold for £1,650
December 1988: Soyuz-U-PVB 3rd stage
The re-entry of 1988-110B / 19706, observed from France on 1988 Dec 20 near 23:52 UTC, resulted in a reported debris find. The parent object was a Soyuz-U-PVB 3rd stage, model 11S510.
Piece of debris from Cosmos 1984 recovered sometime in 1989.
The report in French describes observations of reentry of the Soyuz debris that launched the satellite COSMOS 1984 resulted in the recovery of a piece of nozzle in a field. The translation states: ” On 21 December 1988 to 1:50, numerous witnesses spread across the country in a north-south axis observe the passage of a very bright white object with an orange-yellow streak. The speed of the phenomenon is very fast and no sound is detected. At the end of the path the object is divided into several pieces. The next south of Bourges, a farmer in his field a piece of sheet around 70 cm in length (Minutes No. 1189). After expertise piece recovered, it appears that this is a piece of the nozzle of the Soyuz that launched from Plesetsk (USSR) 16 December 1988 COSMOS 1984 satellite (satellite optical reconnaissance Yantar 4K2, fell 13 February 1989).”
Source: http://www.cnes.fr/web/CNES-en/5001-a-chain-reaction.php and also
April 1988: FOTON
A small pressure sphere from the Foton 1 satellite was launched into space in April 14, 1988 from Russia. It reentered two weeks later and was found by Graham Ducas, an employee of the Western Australia State Water Company while prospecting in the desert. The sphere was 6.5 gallons in capacity and is made of titanium; it has a 0.37m diameter.
Analysis by T. Molczan in March 2012 show that an object which landed in Lakeport, California between two houses causing no damage is part of this launch. A piece of metal 7 feet long and 6 to 8 inches wide was found with no markings yet scorched around the edges. No photos are available.
SOURCES: Lakeport, Calif. (AP), “Remnant of Soviet rocket drops onto sleepy town”, The Item, Sumter, S.C., Oct 15, 1987: 7B.
1986: SPACE SHUTTLE CHALLENGER
A large piece of debris from the Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger washed up at Cocoa Beach, Florida almost 11 years after Challenger exploded in 1986. The piece, about 5m x 2m, is believed to be part of an elevon or rudder.
July 1979: SKYLAB
One of my earlier jobs was as a spaceflight controller at the Johnson Space Center and on the Skylab reentry control team. Although we did everything we could to ensure a safe, controlled reentry, some pieces of the spacecraft survived reentry in 1979 and were recovered in Australia.
Here is a large piece recovered in Australia but preserved at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (courtesy heroicrelics.org ).
In addition, the fragment below is retained at the Power House Museum from the SKYLAB fall.
January 1979 ROCKET ENGINE DEBRIS, GERMANY
A 1979 article in the popular Dutch astronomy magazine, Zenit, details the observations of the Dec 31, 1978 decay of 1978-123B, and the subsequent discovery of a fragment in a farmer’s field. The article begins with Ron Huisman’s report of several observations of the re-entry. It concludes with Bertus Kroon’s description of the analysis that resulted in the identification of the observations as the re-entry of 1978-123B. He also provided the following account of the discovery of the debris, as translated by Google and then clarified by Edwin Mathlener (ZENIT editor):
“On January 14, I learned that a few days after the fall of the rocket a farmer from Stolzenau had found a foreign body on his land. The town of Stolzenau lies 33 km west and 3 km north of Hannover on the west bank of the Weser River. The description of the object is: a hollow, blackened cone, 110 cm high and with a maximum diameter of 60 to 70 cm. The top is missing and seems to be torn off with force. Just below the top are two rings or flanges and on the inside of the cone, situated in longitudinal direction, are cooling fins. Under the blackened surface is yellow shiny metal reminiscent of copper or gold. There are no characters found.
This description hardly let there be any doubt that the outlet of a rocket is found. Ron Huisman wrote above that the formation of fireballs extinguished just above Jupiter. From his residence at 20h07m this planet was 13° above the horizon, at an azimuth of 74° (east-northeast). The intersection of this direction from Bunnik with the traject that the rocket exactly followed above Stolzenau, lies 2 km north of Kirchdorf, at more than 50 km altitude. This intersection is located about 20 km in front of (northwest of) Stolzenau. The agreement is very good, when we take into account that the fragment came down not at a right angle but at a steep angle of cirça 60°.”
Source: “Heavenly fireworks New Year’s Eve”, Zenit, The Netherlands, Mar 1979: 102-104.
An additional acount:
Pierre Neirinck worked for the Satellite Observers Group, in London, and participated in the identification of the re-entry of 1978-123B. He described the circumstances of the discovery of the debris in a May 2004 message to the now defunct private mailing list DSat, reproduced here (with minor edits) with permission:
“While the rocket was offering a splendid New Year Eve firework to the Dutch, at Bruchagen, near Steyerberg (WGermany), an old lady in bed, Else Schumacher, was awakened by a strange noise. She got up, looked outside, saw nothing in the dark. The noise so disturbed her that she found it difficult to get back to sleep.
Meantime, Hilde and Friedhelm Schumacher were on their way to a New Year’s Eve party. They were walking from their lonely smallholding when suddenly they saw several illuminated objects moving slowly at a great height. “At first, we thought it was fireworks but they were far too high and lasted far too long”. Hilde also noticed that the objects followed a gentle curve. One object was large and the other small, both had yellow body and red tails. She was extremely concerned that the objects might fall on their house, and was relieved to see that the N->E took them well over the roof.
Slightly different view of the same object. Courtesy Pierre Neirinck.
Days after, the snow melted and the Schumachers discovered embedded in their field, 200 m from the house, a metal object too large to be carried away. It was dark grey, ~10 kg, skittle shaped. Top: 30 cm diam. Bottom: 77 cm, height 1.10 m. Skin thickness (corrugated): 5mm. Not radioactive.”
Ted Molczan offered the following update. Excellent work was done in 1979 to correlate the observations of December 31, 1978 and the subsequent debris discovery with 1978-123B, the third stage of a Soyuz-U rocket. Our post-cold war knowledge of Soviet/Russian space technology enables an even more precise identification of the debris.
The Soyuz-U third stage, which Russia has assigned the model number 11S510, is powered by a single RD-0110 engine, which has four combustion chambers. The debris is the major portion of the nozzle of one of the combustion chambers of 1978-123B. The supporting information and analysis is as follows.
Comparing the debris photos with those of an intact RD-0110 engine reveals a great similarity in appearance between the debris and the large combustion chamber nozzles:
The conclusive identification is based on a comparison of the dimensions of the debris with the known corresponding values of the RD-0110 nozzles. In his 2004 comments, Pierre Neirinck reported maximum diameter of 0.77 m; in the 1979 Zenit article, Bertus Kroon reported 0.6 to 0.7 m. Both sources agree that height was 1.1 m. The latter appears to be an estimate of the object’s intact height, derived from the dimensions of the debris, with the simplifying assumption of a conical shape. However, it is clear from the photos that the shape was not conical, but rather bell-like, which suggests a shorter intact height. Therefore, the estimated height is less likely to be decisive than the diameter.
The discrepancy between Neirinck and Kroon on the large diameter is resolved by information found in the U.N.’s “List of Reported Space Objects Discovered by Member States within their Territories”, found at the following URL. The debris in question is listed as object RD-79-01:
The relevant info is summarized:
Date of Discovery: January 1979
Notifying State: Federal Republic of Germany
Document Symbol: Letter to UN-SG
Location of Discovery: near Nienburg/Weser River, FRG
Height: 0.75 m
Width/Diameter: 0.77 m (base) 0.31 m (apex)
The German government confirmed Pierre Neirick’s maximum diameter of 0.77 m. The corresponding dimension of the actual RD-0110 nozzle was reported by V.R. Rubinsky in his 1994 paper, “Combustion Instability in the RD-0110 Engine”:
Table 2 states the nozzle exit diameter as 0.764 m, which agrees with the value of 0.77 m reported by Neirinck and the German government. Roughly scaling the Neirinck photo on the basis of that dimension reveals reasonable agreement with Rubinsky Figs. 2 and 3.
It is interesting to speculate on what happened to the debris. Germany probably knew its identity, but apparently did not share it with the U.N. Given the intense Cold War interest in the West in Soviet space technology, it is likely that Germany promptly notified the US DoD of the debris via the “Moon Dust” channel that existed for that purpose, and made arrangements for it to be studied by the USAF’s Foreign Technology Division, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Its present location is unknown.
September 11, 1978 COSMOS 1029 ENGINE
Pierre Neirinck’s three images of an object correlated with the decay of 1978-082C / 11018, on 1978 Sep 11 UTC. The RAE Table of Earth Satellites includes a foot note that reads: “A 20 kg, 0.6 m piece was picked up near Garnat-sur-Engievre (Allier), France.”
The three images below are courtesy of P. Neirinck, a dedicated amateur satellite observer who tracked down the information and preserved it.
Pierre described how he obtained details of the object, including the photographs, from the police, in a post to the now defunct Dsat list on 2004 May 10. He refreshed his memory by referring to a technical note issued at the time. Here are the relevant paragraphs:
<<<< In S.O.N. 695, I find: “The metallic mass fallen from the French sky, on 1978 Sep 11, was finally traced in a Gendarmerie, thanks to my mother & Radio Europe Nr 1 providing all telephone numbers unobtainable from the British Enquiry Service.
Major Mercier (Gendarmerie of Moulins) was kind enough to fetch the strange object, to describe it over the phone, to answer any questions and, French authorities permitting, to send photographs.
Description: blackened thin double-wall-pot, larger at the base. d=60 cm (base); h=58 cm; 20kg. Exploded? Screws on top flange; 25 cm crack on one side; four 1 cm dia. pipes (2 on top, 2 on sides). Level of radioactivity seems above the one of a luminous watch since a 2 h proximity limit was set.
This fast object, whistling over 2 farmers heads, landed spinning and smoking, 300 yards away, leaving a 7 m sliding mark and a final 5 cm crater in the field. Gas? was still escaping. Was reported 2 days later. Before telephoning, I calculated the exact time for the decay of 78-82C over Garnat-sur-Engièvre(Allier): 1655 [UTC]. The rough reported time: 16 1/2 [UTC] happened to be near enough and, as expected, the file revealed a trajectory NW-SW. Therefore COSMOS 1029 engine was the guilty flying saucer.
Soviets denied ownership. I ask to scratch the soot. Underneath: CYRILLIC characters! Greeks were obviously innocent. And we learned from the date engraved by the Russians (1977) when it was built. >>>>
So, the object was actually heard to descend, quickly found, reported within 2 days. Google Maps has Garnat-sur-Engievre near 46.63 N, 3.66 E. Using Satevo to propagate USSTRATCOM’s final TLE to decay places the descent trajectory almost exactly over this location, as Pierre found.
Jonathan’s satellite catalogue describes object 1978-082C / 11018 as the KDU of Cosmos 1029, which was a Zenit-4MKM imagery reconsat. I believe the KDU is a propulsion module.’
Source: Ted Molczan May 25, 2013.
January 1978: COSMOS 954
A stir was created in January 1978 when pieces of the Soviet Cosmos 954 rained down on Canada. Beryllium rods and cylinders were recovered from the Northwest Territories and were found to be radioactive. “A large piece of the satellite known as the ’antlers’ was discovered quite inadvertently by two young explorers who were part of a team of six adventurers making a voyage in the Thelon River Game Sanctuary, some 400 miles to the east of the eastern tip of Great Slave Lake. They were travelling by dog-sled with two teams of dogs, following the route that had been taken by the English Naturalist John Hornby in the 1920’s.”
1972 PRESSURE SPHERE
This is a titanium sphere from a U.S. Agena-D spacecraft that survived reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere and impacted Australia in the early 1970s. The sphere was used to store gaseous helium on the spacecraft for propulsion. It is not known exactly what Agena-D the sphere came from or when it returned to Earth. Airteck Dynamic made the sphere and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory donated it to NASM in 1973. Diameter 60.96cm (24 inches).
Agena pressure sphere. Notice the rather large dent.
APRIL 1972: HEXAGON SATELLITE
A U.S. reconnaisance satellite ejected a film capsule that sank in 16,000 feet of water. It was recovered after a salvage operation. The photo below is from a declassified report showing the debris at the bottom of the ocean.
Source of above photo: http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/724287/1972-05-24.pdf
1972: SPHERE FRAGMENTS
The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia contained a sphere that was damaged at some point. It was gifted to the museum in 1973 which would make the pedigree between 1957 and 1972. The description of the fragment is: Satellite fragments (2), titanium / vanadium / aluminium, maker unknown, USSR, found in New South Wales, Australia, 1957-1972.
Two fragments from a Russian satellite. They are the remains of spherical pressure vessels made of of metal with an original diameter of 14.9 inches.
One fragment is a spherical pressure vessel with the upper segment burnt away during re-entry, leaving a slashed, jagged rim. The other fragment is similar from which test pieces were removed by the Department of Supply to determine the type of material used in construction. Both fragments are discoloured, a dark brown due to scorching, and have congealed slag deposits.
Photos of two fragments from Powerhouse Museum. Source: Source: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/?irn=210707&img=169490
These fragments were found in October 1972 on Dobikin Merino Stud, Bellata. Impact location Lat 29Â°54″ S, Long 149Â°44″ E. Three fragments found, the last is still with the donor.
1972: COSMOS 486 ROCKET DEBRIS
The following is an account of the discovery of one of a number of metal spheres found in NewZealand between 1970 and 1972.
“Ashburton farmer Denis O’Sullivan received a gift from outer space nearly forty years ago. A 20 kilogram, titanium sphere the size of a beachball dropped from the heavens onto his farm in 1972 and has been kept in a corner of his lounge ever since.
The ball was part of a Russian spacecraft that fell out of orbit above the South Island on April 3. South Island residents reported rumbling and lights in the sky on the night of the incident. Over the next few weeks, farmers around Ashburton discovered five of the large metal ”space balls” on their property.
The release of government files on UFO sightings, including the official report on the Ashburton Space Balls, has cast fresh light on the incident. O’Sullivan was 17 when he discovered his space ball on May 11.
A second metal ball found in the region.
”I remember it well. I picked it up myself. It was in a turnip field. I saw this mound in the paddock and I thought it was a dead sheep. I went closer and there was this metal ball lying there next to a bit of a hollow about three feet away,” he said.
”I picked it up and carried it back to the truck. It was sitting on my lap in the truck on the way back to the farm. We called the police and the first thing they did was get everyone to stay away from the scene and then a policeman hung his wristwatch over it to see if it was radioactive. I thought: ‘It’s a bit late for that, it has been sitting on my lap on the way back.”
The ball was taken away for investigation by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The government report states the balls were found not to be radioactive in testing at a laboratory in Christchurch. The report concluded the balls were part of the Russian rocket Kosmos 482 which failed when launching a Venus probe. The balls, which had Russian markings, were used to pressurise fuel tanks or as stabilization jets, the report states.
Russia refused to lay claim to the debris and so the balls were returned to the farmers that found them. O’Sullivan said he once put the ball on eBay with a reserve of $500,000, but it did not sell. ”It is pretty unique. There are not too many of these that fell from a spacecraft. How do you value it? What price would you put on it? It is not something you would sell to a scrap dealer,” he said.
John Lindores found a space ball on his property on April 3. The ball is on permanent loan to the Ashburton Aviation Museum. ”We thought it was an April Fool’s joke to start with. The police came and took it away. It caused quite a stir at the time. They treated it with great care because they were afraid it was radioactive. They took it to Ashburton jail and locked it up for the night.”
December 1971: MARS 3 LANDER
On Dec. 2, 1971, the former Soviet Union racked up another space-first by landing a probe on the surface of Mars. The revelry was short-lived, however. Fourteen seconds after touch down, radio communications from the Mars 3 lander were cut off, possibly due to a raging dust storm.
Fast-forward 41 years and the first visible evidence of Mars 3 has re-emerged, courtesy of NASA’s sharp-eyed Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. A new analysis of a five-year old MRO image, coupled with a second shot taken on March 10, shows what appears to be the lander and three other pieces of Mars 3 hardware — the parachute, heat shield and landing rocket — on the planet’s surface.
June 29, 1971: SOYUZ 11 CRASH
The second expedition to Salyut-1 ended tragically when the crew died because of decompression of their capsule during descent.
Soyuz 11 vehicle after land
In a particularly harrowing image, would-be rescuers offer initial support to the bearded Georgi Dobrovolski. Little did they know at the time that all three men had been dead for far too long for resuscitation to have any positive effect. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts
Soyuz 11 was the first and only manned mission to board the world’s first space station, Salyut-1 (Soyuz 10 had soft-docked but had not been able to enter due to latching issues). The mission arrived at the space station on June 7, 1971 and departed on June 30, 1971. The mission ended in disaster when the crew capsule depressurized during preparations for re-entry, killing the three-man crew
1970: COSMOS 316 ROCKET DEBRIS
September 4, 1970 pieces of Cosmos 316 rocket launched in December 1969 were discovered in several US states. Large pieces were found in Pratt, Kansas and Beaver, Oklahoma. The pieces weighted 150 lb and 240 lb, respectively.
Tom Gibson, an oil company superintendent uses a shovel to support a metal object which came down near Pratt, Kansas on land leased by his company.
1970: APOLLO 5 LM-1 TANK
The first Apollo lunar module was flown in a test environment in space in 1968. The descent stage of the module reentered the Earth’s atmosphere in 1968 but was not recovered until 1970 in Colombia, South America. A portion of the recovered stage is shown below.
Above image courtesy of heroicrelics.org.
1968 PRESSURE SPHERE AT INKERMAN STATION, AUSTRALIA
A recently declassified Australia Air Force set of documents referenced a sphere which was found in late 1968. Inkerman Station is a cattle property situated on 135,000 hectares, north-west of Normanton in far north Queensland. The sphere was given over the US embassy in 1969 reportedly.
A group of people posing with the object which is around 24 inches in diameter.
A closeup of the sphere.
The sphere and its finder, Billy Adam
Source: memo 18 December 1968 from Royal Australian Air Force Townsville HQTVL/5/40/Air(62)
April 23,1967 SOYUZ 1 CRASH
Soyuz 1 crashed in the Crimea resulting in the death of Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov.
One of few images of the Soyuz 1 crash site ever to be released in the post-Soviet era. Somewhere in the midst of this burning mass of twisted metal lay the remains of the first man to die during a space mission. Photo Credit: Roscosmos.
August 21, 1965 GEMINI V BOOSTER
Recovery of part of the first stage of NASAs Gemini V Booster, the first to ever be retrieved from space was made by the U.S.S. Dupont. The booster was used to launch the Gemini VSpacecraft from Cape Kennedy, Florida, and re-entered the earth’s atmosphere 450 miles N.E. of Cape Kennedy.
APRIL 1964: CORONA CAPSULA LANDS IN VENEZUELA
A film capsule accidentally landed and was recovered by farmers in Venezuela.
Source of photo above: http://www.nro.gov/foia/declass/CAL-Photos.html
1962: SPUTNIK IV
“On May 15, 1960 Russian scientists launched a 5 ton spaceship known in the western world as Sputnik IV (the official Russian name is Korabl-Sputnik 1). It was the first satellite designed for the purpose of human spaceflight. This top secret satellite contained a pressurized cabin and life support equipment. Reports were widespread that the satellite also carried a life-sized “mannequin cosmonaut”. If such reports were correct, the mannequin must have been an ancestor to cosmonaut “Ivan Ivanovich”, a dummy that flew on subsequent Sputnik missions. Photo: Ivan Ivanovich, the dummy cosmonaut that flew on Sputnik 9 and 10. “MAKET”, Russian for “dummy”, was displayed inside Ivanovich’s helmet to prevent public panic after his return to earth.
One of the earliest recorded man-made space debris falls occurred in Manitowoc, Wisconsin on May 15, 1960. A piece of Sputnik IV fell in on North 8th street and was recovered there. It was 0.15m in size and 9.5 kg in mass. And even though the original piece was ultimately returned to the Russians, there is an intensely realistic piece of it protected in a glass case inside the Rahr-West Museum. There is also a small brass ring in the middle of the street that commemorates the fall.
In June 1969 pieces of another Soviet spacecraft fell on the deck of a Japanese freighter sailing off the former USSR.
July 1961: RECOVERY FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR
Mercury 4 was launched July 21, 1961. Gus Grissom, the 3rd astronaut to return from space, rode the spacecraft for 15 minutes before landing in the ocean. Liberty Bell 7 sank after a hatch blew open and it dropped to a depth of 5 km into the water. After a 14 year search an expedition in 1999 uncovered the spacecraft and raised it to the surface where this piece of space debris is now stored in a museum.
PROGRESS AND SOYUZ CAPSULES
Some of these workhorse capsules have been recovered and stored in a so-called graveyard of used space objects. An example of such a collection is shown here.
UNKNOWN DATE: PRESSURE SPHERES
Two space spheres on display in the patio of the Firmat Museum in Santa Fe, Argentina. Source: http://www.openminds.tv/the-space-balls-a-case-of-mistaken-identity-854/ Credit: Open Minds Production.
UNKNOWN DATE: PRESSURE SPHERE
A pressure vessel on display in the at the UFO Vision Museum in Victoria, Argentina.
Source: http://www.openminds.tv/the-space-balls-a-case-of-mistaken-identity-854/. Credit Open Minds Production.
UNKNOWN DATE: PRESSURE SPHERE
I received these photos of space junk that had been stored at NORAD at one point in time (Space Control Center). Unfortunately, I do not know their heritage.
The bolt and threads above survived intact even though the sphere itself is very scorched and the other side has a large hole in it.
APOLLO MANNED CAPSULE
Earlier examples of reentry include Apollo capsules
In addition, we observed several Apollo missions on the way to the moon. In this view Apollo 12 Command Module is seen as a small dot illuminated by sunlight on November 14, 1969 at 02hUT from a slant range of 50,000 miles. It is at the apex of the arrow labeled A12. There are 3 other pieces also visible which are so-called SLA (Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter) panels. They were 28 feet high with a diameter ranging from 12 ft. 10in to 21 ft 8in. Sunlight reflected quite well off these panesl which stayed in close proximity to the Command Module for some time. Two SLA panels are seen as dots directly below the second arrow and the third below and to the right of the right-most of those two objects. These are Polaroid images taken off a video monitor. The telescope used was a 16-inch telescope and an intensified video camera was employed. The 3 objects qualify as space debris since they were jettisoned as part of the mission scenario yet followed along in roughly parallel trajectories to the Apollo.
Many Russian spacecraft were designed to return humans back to earth. This Vostok capsule is an example of one which survived reentry and is now housed in a space museum in Moscow.
Russian rocket launches out of Kazahkstan have resulted in a lot of debris being scattered about. The following are a collection of images that are representative of some of that debris. While none of this is technically ‘space debris’ it is considered launch debris.
ADVERTISING SPACE DEBRIS
The internet has created a market for advertising all sorts of products including recovered pieces of space debris. This appears to be a pressure sphere.
Lottie Williams (44 years old at the time) was grazed by a lightweight fragment of charred woven material (10 x 13 cm)material that was later identified from the reentry of the MSX Delta rocket (launched April 1996) that reentered the atmosphere in 1997. She was walking laps with friends in a park located at 66th Street North and Lewis Avenue at 330am in Tulsa, Oklahoma on January 22. At that time they saw what appeared to be a fireball streaking across the sky and breaking up into pieces. Then about 30 minutes later something hit her on the shoulder. It appeared as pieces of metal fabric that melted together. The reentry itself was seen by many including Tulsa police officers who were involved in a 9-hour standoff at a home in north Tulsa.
Source: TULSA WORLD, Jan 23, 1997
While it is not clear that anyone has been killed by space debris, it was reported that a cow died in Cuba after having been hit by a falling object in 1960. An unknown number of rocket motor and propellant tank pieces were reported to have fallen in Cuba in November 1960 and these are thought to be sub-orbital debris from failure of a Thor booster used to launch the Transit-IIIA satellite on November 30, 1960 (satellite 1960-F16).This was the second launch attempt of the Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) satellite declassified in 1998. Neither the cow nor its owners were available for interviews. The principal source of the cow story is from a speech delivered by CIA director G.J.Tenet Sept 27, 2000 in which he stated “One of (the) more spectacular failures rained debris down on Cuba. Havana charged that a cow was killed in a deliberate US action. The Cubans soon paraded another cow through the streets with a placard reading ‘Eisenhower, you murdered one of my sisters’. It was the first and last time that a satellite has been used in the production of ground beef. The episode has gone down in history as the herd shot round the world.”
Another report indicated Nov. 7, 2002 that a boy was hit by space debris in China. “Debris from a space satellite that fell from its orbit struck a six-year-old boy in Shaanxi Province last week, according to a report in the Beijing Youth Daily.
Wu Fusheng, the father of the boy named Wu Jie, remembers hearing a “thundering” sound and saw a piece of metal plummet from the sky, finally hitting a persimmon tree under which his son was playing with other children. The boy was taken to hospital where doctors found he had suffered a fractured toe and a swelling on his forehead.
The satellite debris was a block of aluminum, 80 centimetres by 50 centimetres and weighing 10 kilograms. The freak accident also hit the Wu family’s finances. They had to borrow 400 yuan (US$48) from a neighbour to pay for the medical treatment. After the remains of the satellite had crashed to earth, the village head noticed that the air had a smoky, gunpowdery smell and thought a plane had crashed nearby. He requested that the village be evacuated.
Later, after a total of 19 metal fragments had been recovered, it was found that the debris was the outermost shell of the Resource Second Satellite which had broken up after falling from orbit. Local police and authorities have made a list of all the debris and are waiting for more expert investigation.
The satellite was supposed to have crashed into an uninhabited mountain area in Shanyang County but had landed instead in nearby Yanghe village. The mishap was blamed on unexpected weather conditions. The government will pick up the cost of Wu Jie’s medical treatment and also pay some compensation to his family.” (Star News)
EXPLOSIONS IN SPACE
Space debris comes in many forms. One of the most exciting is when a satellite or rocket explodes unexpectedly. We have watched the aftermath of some of these events. An early sighting of mine was of Cosmos 1823. On December 29, 1987 at 1113 UT, we watched six fragments pass through the field of our binoculars one after the other separated by 53, 7, 5, 83, and 18 seconds, respectively. While the intact satellite had been observed at magnitude +5, the pieces that we observed from an explosion that had occurred earlier varied in brightness from +9 and +10.5 magnitude.
Why should we try to view the end products of explosions? A simple answer might be the following: if the cause of an explosion is not known (usually the case), one may be able to gather information on the rotation and brightness of resultant fragments and correlate the brightness with radar cross section. In certain instances, the exploding object may not be destroyed. This is not an altogether unusual situation. Some objects suffer minor explosions and their radar cross section is largely unaffected. Optical observation bears this out.
An explosion in space is not a desirable outcome since the new fragments become possible sources of impact to working satellites. Even a small fragment moving at orbital velocity is enough to seriously damage or destroy a large spacecraft. Many fragments created as a result of explosions tend to have small cross sectional area and may decay from orbit quickly. During periods of high solar activity when atmospheric decay is accelerated, a temporal ‘cleansing’ of small pieces of space debris will occur.
In the 1960s and early 70s there were several finds of space debris in Australia. A report on the Bellata spheres from the Weapons Research Establishment (which is part of the documentation provided to the museum by the donor, Dobikin stud manager Mr. J. T. Vickery), lists seven ‘space objects’ that had been found and reported between 1963 and 1973.
When the first ‘space ball’ was found on Boullia Station in far western NSW in 1963, media speculation as to its origins ranged from evidence for an advanced ancient lost civilisation in Australia, to debris from a damaged UFO and “Boullia Ball” became a nickname for this type of spherical object found in Australia and New Zealand (some were found across the Tasman in 1972). However, investigations of the Boullia Ball and later space debris finds by the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE), Australia’s defence science agency and forerunner of today’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), demonstrated that they were of definite terrestrial origin, mostly from US launch vehicles.
The first two “Bellata Balls” were sent to the WRE for examination and it was established, on the basis of the type of weld used in their construction, and lettering on one ball in the Cyrillic alphabet, that the pressure vessels had originated in the USSR. In the Cold War environment of the time, the Embassy of the USSR in Canberra declined the WRE’s invitation to inspect the balls and confirm their origin, but there is little doubt about the identification. After examination, the WRE forwarded the two balls to the museum in 1973, in accord with Dobikin manager Mr. Vickery’s wish to donate them to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The third ball discovered remained in Mr. Vickery’s possession.
The two Bellata balls donated to the museum are made of a titanium/vanadium/aluminium alloy, a relatively light but strong metal. The sphere on display in the Space exhibition is the most complete of the two, although it was partially melted away and shows a jagged rim slagged with congealed metal. The body and interior of the ball are spattered with other blobs of metal slag, but it is otherwise reasonably intact. The other sphere was burned through in two places, so the WRE decided to cut it into pieces for examination and analysis: only a segment of the original now remains, stenciled with lab markings.
UNITED NATIONS LIST OF POSSIBLE SPACE OBJECTS RECOVERED
In compliance with article 5 of the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, Member States provide reports of space debris discovered within their territories. This list is located at:
FLASHES IN THE NIGHT SKY
For earth dwellers, being hit by a piece of reentering space debris is a highly unlikely event. But there are more to interest space buffs than just the extraordinary events involved in surviving a reentry. While it is true that thousands of satellites and rockets have reentered the atmosphere and only a relative few have been found intact or in pieces, the effects of space debris can have an impact on ground based astronomical observations. This first came to light around 1985 when a group of astronomers reported flashes in the sky which later became known as the ‘Aries Flasher’, ‘Perseus Flasher’, or ‘the Ogre’. The flashes were documented in ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL Vol. 307, L33-37, 1986 August 1 by Katz et al. in an article titled “Optical Flashes in Perseus”. In this paper, the investigators reported eliminating what could not have caused the flashes. One source they discounted was artificial earth satellites. This conclusion was the catalyst that began my investigation into the Aries flasher phenomenon.
After the announcement of the Aries Flasher, numerous search teams tried in vain to locate the source of these mysterious flashes. Some results included:
1. “A Search for Optical Flashes in Perseus” by P.Garnavich and S. Temple University of Washington, Jan. 1987.
2.”Search for X Rays from the Region of the Aries-Perseus Flasher” by W.Lewin et al. from MIT, 1987.
3.”Status of the Perseus Optical Flasher”, by G.Corso et al. Loyola University, 1987.
4.”Evidence from Meteor Patrol Photos for a nonastronomical Origin of the Reported Optical Flashes in Perseus.” by I.Halliday et al. NRC of Canada.
…and there were many more to come.
After seeing a photo of the Aries flasher published in SKY AND TELESCOPE magazine, it occurred to me that this flash looked remarkably like others I had seen as an undergraduate student in analyzing photographic plates taken of flashes from the GEOS 1 satellite. If this was indeed a flash of reflected sunlight, then perhaps the orbits of all satellites in space could be analyzed to see if a spacecraft or debris passed through the field of view of the photo at the precise time and location of the published photo. Though obtaining the exact location of the observation site of the Aries flasher report(s) was difficult, it was eventually determined with enough certainty to analyze the circumstances that possible satellite passages might have had.
Using special software developed by the space debris office at the Johnson Space Center, I determined that at 0242UT on March 19, 1985, three satellites passed through the area that could have been source of the flash. Two of them, TOPO I and 1961 Omicron 151 were dismissed as unlikely sources due to their size and distance at the time of the flash. I attempted optical observations of both and eliminated them based on what I saw. The third object was Cosmos 1400. I conducted observations of this satellite which showed brief flashes sometimes reaching +2 magnitude. After more study, I concluded that this satellite was the source of the Aries Flasher event on that date. The Aries flasher photograph was considered the prime target for analysis. However, the Katz group also documented other flashes in the general part of the sky which caused the phenomenon to be called the Aries Flasher, then Perseus Flasher due to the lack of certainty in the position of the flash source(s).
After examining some of the other reported flashes, I was able to correlate some of them with other coincident passages of some other satellites. This was the first time that a direct link was found between space debris and suspected new astronomical discoveries. The results were accepted for publication in ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL Vol. 317, L39 1987 as “Specular Satellite Reflection and the 1985 March 19 Optical Outburst in Perseus”.
Additional work done by Brad Schaefer, myself and others was published later that contradicted many other flash events that appeared in the original Aries Flasher paper. See “The Perseus Flasher and Satellite Glints”, ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL Vol. 320, pp.398-404, 1987 Sept. 1. For additional references to this topic:
1) SKY AND TELESCOPE, July 1985, p.54.
2) SKY AND TELESCOPE, June 1987, p.694.
A second high profile flash event was reported in ICARUS Vol. 76, pp. 525-532 in 1988 by Kolovos et al. titled “Photographic Evidence of a Short Duration Flash from the Surface of the Moon”. In this story, a photo was taken of a low phase moon in which a bright flash is seen superimposed over the dark side of the lunar disk. The investigators claimed that the origin of the flash was a lunar transient phenomenon with an origin below the moon’s surface. The appearance of this flash is very similar to that of the Aries flasher and I attempted to determine if this, too, might be associated with satellite glints. I found an even more convincing candidate for this flash, the satellite called DMSP F3. Its passage correlated almost exactly over the moon at the precise time. What was even more remarkable, after beginning a campaign to study the optical nature of this satellite, I observed distinct specular short-lived flashes that reached magnitude -4. I was able to photograph one of them. Its appearance was uniquely similar to that on the ICARUS photo. The results were published as “Space Debris and A Flash on the Moon”, ICARUS, vol. 90, pp.326-327, 1991. For more references on this topic:
1) SKY AND TELESCOPE, May 1989, p.468.
2) SKY AND TELESCOPE, June 1990, p.590.
Both the Aries Flasher and Moon Flash were apparently caused by sunlight reflecting off a metallic surface of an inactive satellite. Because there is no effective removal process of dead spacecraft from orbit, they continue to swirl about the earth until the natural forces of orbital decay bring them to a fiery end in the earth’s atmosphere.
As a result of these two events, I received a host of inquiries trying to link other flashes in the sky seen over the prior decades with satellite flashes. Most could not be correlated either due to incomplete information or lack of coincident satellite orbits. It should not be concluded that all flashes seen in the night sky come from space debris. But it is important to recognize that satellites can be the sources of some false astronomical discoveries. The papers increased awareness as did some follow-on popular published articles which helped to mitigate the spread of subsequent reports.
A historical record of space debris falls is kept by the Aerospace Corporation on their site Space Debris Fall List