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Several space debris found in Australia would be the work of SpaceX

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The Australian Space Agency is investigating space debris found on farmland in the Snowy Mountains, Australia. Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at Australian National University, believes they are the remains of a SpaceX mission.

Brad Tucker often gets calls from people who believe they’ve found space junk. It is usually something else. ” This time it was different “He told the Guardian.

A few days ago, the researcher received a call from Mick Miners and Jock Wallace, two sheep farmers from the small town of Dalgety in southern New South Wales (Australia), who reported that they had found several burned objects. Tucker drove two hours to the farm to see the damage, suspecting it might be the remains of a SpaceX Crew Dragon ship.

The trunk of the capsule

The 8.23m-high Crew Dragon ship includes two subsets. The upper part of the vessel consists of a cone-shaped capsule consisting of three subsegments. Its base is formed by a heat shield that protects the boat during the atmospheric reentry. The pressurized part is intended for the crew and contains the trim control and guide motors. Finally, the top of the capsule includes a small removable cover that protects the ISS docking airlock during the spacecraft’s orbit and its return to Earth.

The lower part of the ship, called ” trunk “, is cylindrical in shape. 3.66m high and 3.66m in diameter, this part of the ship is required for take-off, but is discarded before returning. Half of its surface is covered with photovoltaic cells that allow the ship to be powered, while the other half is covered with radiators for thermoregulation.

One such structure was observed over the New South Wales region of Australia on 9 July, just days before these two farmers were reported. This “trunk” included a capsule launched in November 2020.

space debris
One of the panels fell to the ground. Credits: Brad Tucker

SpaceX has not confirmed

On the spot, Tucker discovered that it was most likely space debris, of which it was made composite materials designed to withstand heat. The room also showed obvious signs of burns due to the atmospheric reentry. Dr. Sara Webb, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University, agrees with Tucker’s assessment that this debris is compatible with a SpaceX mission.

One of the panels of this debris also appeared to have a serial number. However, SpaceX has not yet confirmed that this debris belongs to one of its ships. For its part, the Australian Space Agency (ASA) is actively working to support the formal identification of these objects.

Generally, space junk is bound to fall back into the ocean, but some occasionally hit the ground. In 1979, part of the US space station Skylab crashed particularly over Western Australia. A few years later, a Russian nuclear satellite landed in Canada. More recently, debris from a Chinese Long March 5B rocket also landed in West Africa and Southeast Asia.

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