SpaceX capsule confirmed as source of space debris that crashed at farm in Australia

SpaceX capsule confirmed as source of space debris that crashed at farm in Australia

The Australian Space Agency has confirmed that the space debris found in the Snowy Mountains of southern New South Wales belongs to a spacecraft built by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.

Technical experts from the agency visited the remote location on Saturday where sheep farmers Mick Miners and Jock Wallace each discovered a piece of space junk on their respective farms.

The agency had been alerted by Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist from the Australian National University, who was the first to note that the time and location of the debris fall coincided with a SpaceX spacecraft crashing at 7am on July 9, 20 months later re-entered Earth’s atmosphere Launch in November 2020.

Tucker believes the debris came from the depressurized fuselage of the SpaceX capsule, which is critical to launch but will be dumped on return to Earth.

Related: “Like an Alien Obelisk”: Space junk found in the Snowy Mountains paddock believed to be from the SpaceX mission

A spokesman for the Australian Space Agency (ASA) said: “The agency has confirmed that the debris originated from a SpaceX mission and is continuing to work with our colleagues in the US, as well as other parts of the Commonwealth and local authorities as appropriate.”

“If the community discovers further suspected debris, they should not attempt to handle or recover it,” the spokesman said.

“You should contact the SpaceX Debris Hotline at 1-866-623-0234 or at recovery@spacex.com.”

Tucker said since the discovery of the first two pieces of debris was announced, a third piece has been found further west, closer to Jindabyne.

He anticipates more people will come forward with debris “in the coming weeks, months, even years” after people know decomposition has happened in the area.

The ASA spokesman said it was working “under the Australian Government’s Debris Reentry Plan, which outlines the roles and responsibilities of key Australian government agencies and committees in supporting the response to debris reentry “.

Tucker says there are now discussions as to whether SpaceX will collect the debris.

He said the collection is important as it could be related to any liability and damages, which is not SpaceX’s decision but is made at the government level.

Tucker said the likely scenario, he believes, is that it need not involve interstate payments since there has been no damage, unlike when a Soviet nuclear-powered satellite crashed in Canada in the 1980s.

Because it was nuclear-powered, it cost Canada millions of dollars to clean up, Tucker said. Canada demanded CAD$6 million in compensation from the USSR, of which they eventually received about half.

Tucker also explained why the space junk didn’t leave a huge crater when it hit the ground.

When the capsule hit Earth’s atmosphere, it lost most of its speed because all the energy in the atmosphere was absorbed, causing it to break apart.

“Like throwing a ball through a window, the broken glass doesn’t necessarily move at the speed of the ball. They move slower due to energy transfer.”

dr Sara Webb, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University, explains that it’s also possible the debris ricocheted around and traveled farther from where it originally landed.

According to Webb, one of the best examples of this effect is the Tunguska event of 1908: “This was an insanely massive meteorite that came over the Siberian forest. People across eastern Siberia heard this massive bang…it flattened thousands upon thousands of trees in the area surrounding the blast wave blast, but they were never able to fully locate the actual impact crater.”

Tucker said the debris isn’t exiting hot either, because it’s spent most of its orbital space where it’s very cold, and it’s comparatively only a very short time that it warms up as it traverses Earth’s atmosphere.

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“It’s like taking out a frozen pizza, putting it in the microwave for three seconds and then putting it back in the freezer, it actually ends up cold.”

Webb said that any space debris that doesn’t burn up upon re-entry into the atmosphere should splash in the Pacific Ocean at a point called “Point Nemo” — the farthest point from any landmass.

The ASA spokesman said: “The agency is committed to the long-term sustainability of space activities, including debris reduction, and has highlighted this at the international level.”

SpaceX has been contacted for comment.

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