April 2003: ATLAS ROCKET DEBRIS
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.
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.
A titanium Helium pressure sphere related to debris from the third stage of the Ariane 3 booster used to launch GStar 1 and Telecom 1B on May 8, 1985 hit a house in Kasambya, Uganda. The sphere caused no damage or injuries. The sphere was measured at 660mm in diameter (26 inches), made of Titanium TA5 ELI and weighed around 48.5kg (22 lb).
Images of the Uganda pressure sphere
2001: PRESSURE TANK
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).
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, French 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
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.
Source: http://www.bimsociety.org/gallery/Salyut%207%20-%20Kosmos%201686%20Helium%20Tank/dirindex.html 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
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 http://www.cnes-geipan.fr/index.php?id=202&cas=1988-12-01159
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.
Source: Lakeport, Calif. (AP), “Remnant of Soviet rocket drops onto sleepy town”, The Item, Sumter, S.C., Oct 15, 1987: 7B.
Pre-1986 to 1988? TITANIUM SPHERE/UNKNOWN DATE
In 2015 I received information from the owner of an apparent titanium sphere that washed up on Kangaroo Island, Australia. The size is 31 inches/12cm in circumference and weighs 6.6lb/3kg. It was located in a sand dune close to the shore of Bales Bay. The owner found the object on a relatively unused stretch of beach between 1986 and 1988. There were no observations of any reentry event and it may be speculated that currents drifted the object, which appears intact with no holes in it, from its point of ocean impact.
Source: private communications with S. Halloran, February 8-9, 2015
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.