The Australian Space Agency has confirmed that space debris found in the Snowy Mountains in southern New South Wales belongs to a craft built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
The agency’s technical experts visited the remote location Saturday where sheep farmers Mick Miners and Jock Wallace each discovered a piece of space debris on their respective farms.
The agency had been alerted by Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, who first realized that the time and place of the debris fall coincided with a SpaceX spacecraft re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at 7am. July 9, 20 months after its launch in November 2020.
Tucker believes the debris comes from the unpressurized trunk of the SpaceX capsule, which is critical for takeoff, but is dumped when it returns to earth.
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A spokesperson for the Australian Space Agency (ASA) said: “The agency has confirmed that the debris comes from a SpaceX mission and continues to engage with our counterparts in the United States, as well as other parts of the Commonwealth and local authorities. , as appropriate “.
“If the community identifies additional suspicious debris, it should not attempt to manage or recover it,” the spokesperson said.
“They should contact the SpaceX Debris Hotline at 1-866-623-0234 or email@example.com.”
Tucker said that since the discovery of the first two pieces of debris was announced, a third piece had been found further west, closer to Jindabyne.
He expects there will be more people coming forward with debris “in the coming weeks, months or even years” now that people know that disintegration has taken place in the area.
The ASA spokesperson said it “is working under the Australian government re-entry debris plan, which outlines roles and responsibilities for major Australian government agencies and committees in supporting re-entry debris response. space”.
Tucker says there are now discussions about SpaceX picking up the debris.
He said the collection is important because it could be related to any liability and damage, which is not a decision for SpaceX but made at the government level.
Tucker said the likely scenario, in his view, is that since there has been no damage, it will not have to involve intergovernmental payments, unlike when a Soviet nuclear satellite crashed in Canada in the 1980s.
Because it was nuclear-powered, cleaning up Canada cost millions of dollars, Tucker said. Canada sought compensation of Canadian $ 6 million from the USSR, of which they ultimately received about half.
Tucker also explained why the space debris didn’t create 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 was absorbed into the atmosphere, causing it to rupture.
“Like throwing a ball through a window, the shards of glass don’t necessarily travel at the speed of the ball. They travel slower due to the transfer of energy. “
Dr. Sara Webb, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University, explains that it’s also possible that the debris has bounced around and bounced further away from where it initially landed.
Webb says that 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 all over Eastern Siberia have heard this huge bang … it has flattened thousands upon thousands of trees around the area since the blast wave exploded, but the real impact crater they have never been able to locate. completely”.
Tucker said the debris also does not emerge hot because it has spent most of its orbiting space where it is very cold and is relatively only a very short period of time when it warms up as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere.
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“It’s like you take out a frozen pizza, put it in the microwave for three seconds and then put it back in the freezer, it will actually land cold.”
Webb said any space debris that doesn’t burn upon reentry into the atmosphere should splash out to a point called “Point Nemo” in the Pacific Ocean, the furthest point from any landmass.
The ASA spokesperson said: “The Agency is committed to the long-term sustainability of out-of-space activities, including debris mitigation, and has highlighted this on the international stage.”
SpaceX has been contacted for comment.