Last Friday (2), a farmer from Grant County, Washington, found something unexpected on his property: according to local authorities, a large amount of debris from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket fell on the farm’s territory, leaving a 10 cm deep mark on the ground. This incident occurred a week after rocket debris lit up the sky, emitting some bright streaks.
The owner of the property, who declined to be identified, found the component on his farm and as soon as he saw the structure, called “COPV”, about the size of a punching bag, he contacted the local sheriff, who sent it a sergeant to check the found object. In an interview with The Verge, Kyle Foreman, representative of the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, commented that “neither the owner nor the sergeant are rocket scientists, of course, but considering what happened a few days earlier, it seemed to be a detriment from the re-entry of Falcon 9, ”he said.
Thus, the sergeant contacted SpaceX, who confirmed that the object belonged to the company and sent a team to recover the component. In a Twitter post, officials report that COPV was found on private property, and that Spacex has already recovered the object – and that they would not disclose the exact location or name of the farm resident where the item fell. According to the authorities, the object is a pressure structure that is part of the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, a smaller part of the vehicle, which is released from the main stage to take the payload into orbit.
In this case, the rocket was launched to take 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, and the objective was successfully accomplished. While the main thruster returns to Earth, where it will be picked up by SpaceX to undergo maintenance to be used again, the second stage of the rocket can either be destroyed or left in orbit for a few years. Generally, it goes through the so-called “orbit burning”, in which it follows a safe trajectory to be burned in the terrestrial atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
This time, after releasing the set of satellites, the second stage continued on an abnormal trajectory and provided an impressive view for local residents with what looked like “shooting stars”. After that, COPV somehow resisted the trip and ended up on the farm, more than 300 km away from the Pacific Ocean. According to the portal Ars Technica, there was a lack of propellant after the launch for the stage to reactivate its engine and finish the burn. Therefore, re-entry was made with less control, and the stage broke in the sky.
Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist and space object tracker, followed the trajectory of the second stage and said that the re-entry was not a surprise, but that the timing and location were unexpected: “it is an enigma that the stage has not been desorbed under control – it seems that something went wrong, but SpaceX didn’t comment on it, “he said. “However, reentry of the type happens once every few weeks, and it is rare that it happens in an area of high population density, because it is a very small region of the Earth”.
Fonte: Space.com, The Verge
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