Paul Maley’s SPACE DEBRIS PAGE
The content of this and all related space debris pages on this web site is intended for educational use only. We compile reports, accounts and illustration of factual events in the history of the space debris discipline the purpose of which is to inform. Many of the items listed herein have been published elsewhere. When that happens a “source” is shown that identifies the credit. This includes news items and photographs of specific subjects.
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 and corrections within this page by email:
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 aluminum 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 scientists 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 kilometers south of where the 1972 balls landed. “DSIR’s advice … that the sphere was a silicon-aluminum 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”.
Image of Inspector E.M. Connor holding the fake ball found near Ashburton in 1972
“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.
During the week of December 10, 2010 the first Dragon capsule was launched into space with a wheel of Le Brouere cheese as a payload. It could only be hoped that such an object may survive reentry in the future and be recovered as “space debris”.
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 brightness, 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.
SPACE DEBRIS PAGE: 2004 TO THE PRESENT TIME.
December 28, 2014 FALCON 9 ROCKET BODY 2014-52B After a flash in the sky, a roar, a scare and many doubts remained in Santa Rita do Pardo, 266 km from Campo Grande. In the city of seven thousand inhabitants, fireballs were seen this morning. Then three consecutive bangs and an object, like a big truck tank, fell in the yard of Santa Maria. “It was 3 am and seven fireballs came from heaven,” says Marcelo Gulart, 44, supermarket owner in the city.
The farm owner’s friend, Marcelo says that the piece is 1.46 meters tall, 56cm in diameter, and weighs 30kg/66lb. Carbonized, it fell 50 meters from Francisco Souza Dantas house, age 69. Early on Sunday, the place turned into a tourist attraction and pilgrimage point of curiousity to the mayor. With so much movement, Francisco is considering closing the gates. The lights were seen in the sky by residents of several cities such as Campo Grande, Antonio João and South Fatima, and similar reports in Paraná and Paraguay.
A number of videos were posted and they show the classic space debris reentry of a sizable piece of space junk, as opposed to a meteor.The photos here appear to show an intact carbon overwrapped pressure vessel. Joseph Remis correlates this with the Falcon 9 Rocket Body from the 2014-52 launch. The object fell 15m from a house. It appeared to still have pressurant inside it. A second object was found near Andradina, about 160km east of where the first object was found.
It is described as 20cm in diameter, 8cm in height, weighing 3kg/6.6 lb. It apparently hit a nearby roof as evidenced by the next image.
On January 9, 2015 another object similar to the first one was discovered 30km away on a farm. The image is shown below.
Source 1: http://www.campograndenews.com.br/cidades/interior/apos-chuva-de-luzes-objeto-gigante-cai-do-ceu-e-vira-atracao-em-chacara
Source 2: http://www.diarioweb.com.br/novoportal/Noticias/Geral/226521,,Suposto+OVNI+teria+caido+na+zona+rural+de+Andradina.aspx
Source 3: http://dahorabataguassu.com.br/noticia/objeto-nao-identificado-que-caiu-em-santa-rita-do-pardo-nao-contem-radiacao/7612
An apparent titanium sphere from the 3rd stage of a Soyuz rocket launched 7/8/14
A man who believes he found a piece of space junk from the Russian rocket which spectacularly re-entered the atmosphere over Australia put it up for sale for $100,000. Last week’s fireball known as Object 40077 was the third stage of a Soyuz rocket which was launched from Kazakhstan on July 8. It plummeted to Earth at 29,000 kilometres per hour on Thursday night. Many people reported seeing a bright object travelling east to north about 9:45pm on Thursday. The man, known only as Peter, said he found the globe-shaped object just north of Walgett in New South Wales on Sunday. He believes the object is a fuel cell from a Russian rocket. He posted the object for sale on Gumtree but the ad has since been removed.
Seller “Peter” believes the object is a fuel cell made of titanium and he hopes to get $100,000 for it. In the advertisement, Peter said the object was found on the Castlereagh Highway, under the Pagan Creek bridge. He said it was made of titanium, 40 centimetres in diameter and weighed 13.4 kilograms. “One of the valves is completely burnt off and has left some spectacular flow lines of melting titanium as it re-entered earth’s atmosphere,” Peter said in the Gumtree advertisement. “The second valve is still partially intact.” The seller did not claim it definitely came from the space junk sighted over Australia last week but said “it certainly appears that way”.
May 18, 2014 PROTON ROCKET DEBRIS
“Residents in the Heilongjiang province in China reported seeing three UFOs darting across the sky and apparently one of them came crashing down into in a man’s vegetable garden. According to Chinanews.com, villagers in Mengchang saw three objects falling from the sky this morning. Soon after they heard a “huge piercing sound,” and a huge ball of flame came crashing down into the vegetable garden of one of the villagers.
Images of 3 of the fragments
What they found in the garden looks straight out of a science-fiction movie. It appears to be a large metal ball covered by a layer of jagged material. According to China Radio International, China Central Television news is reporting the object to be about 2 and a half feet wide and weighing nearly 90 pounds. Residual nitrogen gas was found inside one object.
Altogether, eight of these unidentified objects fell in the city of Qiqihar. State-run media outlets reported that one of the balls was a little over 2 feet in diameter and weighed about 90 pounds. Locals saw the fiery balls falling.
Closer image of the strange object that crashed into a man’s vegetable garden in Heilongjiang, China. (Credit: Chinanews.com)
The area has been secured and an investigation is underway. Villagers have taken pictures of the object, which remains unidentified. Chinanews.com has suggested that the object could be related to the failure of a Russian rocket at about the same time. The rocket launch was at 3:42 am local time in Kazakhstan, which is 5:42 am in Beijing. The rocket failed 540 seconds into the flight at an altitude of nearly 100 miles. The Proton-M rocket was carrying an advanced satellite. However, the head of the Russian national space agency, Roscosmos, told Russia Today the rocket and cargo burned up in the atmosphere and should not have caused any damage on the ground. The Heilongjiang province is a long distance from Kazakhstan, but the timing is coincidental.
April 14, 2014: ARIANE ROCKET DEBRIS
A fairing from an Ariane rocket fell in Brazil. The following is a news account:
A fisherman in Brazil’s Amazon region has found a large piece of debris from a European space launch.
The man said he found the metal object floating on a remote river in the municipality of Salinopolis. The debris has been confirmed as coming from a satellite launched from the Kourou base, in neighbouring French Guiana, last July. The piece bears the logo of the UK Space Agency and Arianespace – the European satellite company. A spokeswoman for the UK Space Agency, Julia Short, confirmed that the debris was from the launch of Europe’s largest telecommunications satellite last year.
“It is the launch vehicle payload shroud from the Alphasat launch last year. It probably landed in the Atlantic and then floated inland,”
Alphasat, described as Europe’s most sophisticated telecommunications satellite, was launched from the Kourou base on 25 July. Brazilian authorities in northern Para state said they would contact the UK Space Agency and ask them to collect the object.
According to local reports, it took more than 10 people to retrieve the panel from the riverbank. “It is big, the size of a car,” local resident Gilson dos Santos told O Globo.
Residents have been told to report immediately any symptoms of illness, but rescue teams do not believe the wreckage is radioactive. The local fisherman who came across the unusual catch – 73-year-old Manuel Alves dos Santos – said the authorities initially did not believe him.
“It hit my fishing line and I pushed to the bank of the river to see what it was. It is the first time I see something like that,” he told O Liberal newspaper. The object was found on Saturday night, but according to residents the authorities failed to respond to their initial calls.
Recovery teams only arrived in the area after the finding was reported in the media.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 26, 2012 ATLAS V PAYLOAD FARING
“An object washed up on Angle Beach, Southampton, Bermuda on 26 August 2012. It came to the attention of the Bermuda Department of Civil Aviation and has been identified by the Office of Space and Advanced Technology of the Department of State of the United States of America as belonging to the United Launch Alliance. It is believed to be part of a payload fairing from an Atlas V mission conducted on 4 May 2012.
Markings of any kind are always important as illustrated above
The basic dimensions are approximately 84 inches wide and 71 inches tall, with the base of the object being slightly curved. It appears to be made of a honeycomb composite material.”
In a related report sent to me on April 30, 2015, Alex Davidson reported that he came across a part of a fairing at around August 1 or 2, 2012 located 4 miles southwest of Bermuda. The image is shown above and may or may not be directly related to this launch. There are clear markings along the edge of the piece as shown in the image below. Mr. Davidson reports that the part was in fairly good condition with slime but no heavy barnacle growth indicating it had not been in the water for an extended period of time (e.g. years). He had a group of students and had cut his foot on the piece of debris but had the presence of mind to take photos.
Source: personal communication from Alex Davidson, april 30, 2015
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.
June, 2012: PEGASUS ROCKET DEBRIS
The following is a description of rocket debris found on shore in the Republic of the Marhsall Islands (referred to below as RMI).
A booster rocket from a mid-air launch at Kwajalein in June washed up at Mili Atoll prompting the Marhsall Islands government to seek assistance of the US government in removing the large object. Sea Patrol’s Lomor vessel was dispatched at the weekend to check out the rocket that was found at Jelbon Island, the southernmost part of Mili, according to Internal Affairs Minister Wilbur Heine, who represents Mili and traveled with Lomor to inspect the surprise visitor. “It beached on the ocean side of the island and was discovered by local residents,” Heine said. “The residents radioed Majuro and I contacted Lomor to organize an investigation to confirm what drifted ashore.” The Lomor returned to Majuro Monday. “We sent a diplomatic note to the US Embassy asking them to send a team of experts to determine if the missile presents any harm to the environment, and to remove it,” said Foreign Minister Phillip Muller Tuesday. On Wednesday, in response to an inquiry from the Journal, the US Embassy issued a US Army Kwajalein Atoll statement saying, “it appears to be the ‘stage one’ motor of the Pegasus XL launch vehicle from a test conducted at the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in June 2012.” The stage one motor is a solid rocket booster that propels the Pegasus to about 200,000 feet then burns out and falls as planned into the broad ocean area and normally sinks upon splashdown, said USAKA (US Army Kwajalein Atoll). “As verified from Reagan Test Site monitoring of the mission, the component landed in the predicted drop area in the open ocean approximately 300 miles from Mili Atoll, apparently drifting for some amount of time before coming ashore on Mili Atoll,” the statement said. There have been more than 40 Pegasus launches over the years from various locations including Kwajalein, the Army said. Earlier coordinated environmental reviews determined the Pegasus XL launch does not present a significant impact to human health or the environment, the Army said. The photos of the equipment that washed up in Mili “show that the components worked, all fuel oxidized and there should be no risk to personnel,” the Army said. The Army said it is working with the US Embassy and the RMI government “to develop appropriate response actions.”
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.
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.’
Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2118280/Russian-space-experts-called-examine-200-kilo-UFO-fragment-fell-sky-Siberia.html 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.”
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. Source: http://www.sinodefence.com/space/military/fsw.asp 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.
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.
August 2011: RUSSIAN ROCKET PANEL
The US Coast Guard reportedly discovered this curved panel in the Tobago Keys in August 2011.
A pressure sphere from a Russian rocket stage was recovered in Wyoming, USA on March 21. 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.
Source: Craig Daily Press, Craig CO, April 9, 2011
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.
The sample return capsule (small round blob) separated hours earlier from the spacecraft bus; but optically they appear quite close together. The two became distinct only after the bus exploded at an altitude of about 75km. At first the blazing fireball overwhelms the sensor and it is not possible to make out faint stars. The bright blob is the bus and the two extended smeared images in the right center are ghost images created by internal lens reflections. 3.75 seconds after the above image this frame shows the capsule’s trail along with the debris from the spacecraft bus (above). Stars are now clearly visible. 5.5 seconds after the first frame, the debris trail begins to coalesce into groups of fragments. 6.93 seconds after the first image many individual large bus fragments glow as separate points of light. It was shortly after this image that power to the camera was inadvertently disconnected. Had this event not occurred, it is expected that the capsule could have been tracked much farther than any other ground imagery site. Note how the straight trail generated by capsule separation begins to fade (right side) as chemiluminescence effects start to quickly diminish with time. Also, the trail begins to coalesce into small more highly dense clumps similar to those seen in aircraft contrails and also in Space Shuttle reentry vortices.
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
Payload fairing with people to show perspective.
Sylda antenna nomenclature
Beachside location where the fairing was originally found.
2009: PRESSURE SPHERES
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
Discovered in Mexico (location not known) this object is in private hands. It has sustained damage at both ends.
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.
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.
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.
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 interstellar 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.
“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 Missile 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:
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.
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.
Source: http://www.sinodefence.com/space/military/fsw.asp 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) Tank Connectors Debris can land anywhere, for example on top of a roof. …in the street. …at a gasoline station.