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Possible SpaceX debris falling in Australia from the Dragon spacecraft

Space junk from an old SpaceX mission may have landed in rural Australia.

A piece of charred material left over from the re-entry of a SpaceX spacecraft was reported to have been found in the middle of a sheep field near Daleji; The discovery came after a “loud” sound was heard by witnesses on July 9, local time in the southeast of the country.

SpaceX has not yet confirmed whether the piece is part of the Crew-1 Dragon spacecraft that successfully sprayed it on May 2, 2021. Longtime space debris tracker Jonathan McDowell said on Twitter (Opens in a new tab) On Friday (July 29) that Dalgty was actually under the expected re-entry path of an uncompressed “trunk” piece of the dragon, it was eliminated before re-entry.

McDowell added that the images indicated that the debris came from one of the fins of the torso. These fins are located on the perimeter of the missile to aid in aerodynamics during the mission’s launch phase.

Related: SpaceX’s Crew-1 astronauts mission to the International Space Station in pictures

Sheep farmer Meek Miners found the nearly 9-foot (3-meter) object in a remote part of his field on Monday (July 25) and didn’t know what it was, according to ABC News. (Opens in a new tab). After a call with farm neighbor Jock Wallace, Wallace discovered more debris had been spotted on his property the previous week, on July 21.

Wallace contacted the local Civil Aviation Authority for advice, who advised him to contact NASA for more information. “I am a farmer from Daleji. What am I going to tell NASA?” Wallace told ABC.

Astrophysicist Brad Tucker told Space.com that the debris is likely the spacecraft’s uncompressed “trunk.” “After I’ve gone out there and looked at the pieces myself, there is no doubt in my mind that they are space junk,” he said in an email.

The torso is designed to send an uncompressed payload into space, and also to support the Crew Dragon during its launch, according to SpaceX. (Opens in a new tab). Half of the trunk includes the solar panels that power the Dragon when the ship is in flight or docked at the station. The stem detaches from the spacecraft shortly before re-entry. Screenshot of the successful SpaceX Crew-1 on May 2, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Tucker said the sonic boom was heard widely at 7:05 a.m. local time on July 9, and pieces found near Dalgty were “very close to the tracked track of the SpaceX-1 crew box.”

Tucker added that the farms where the pieces were found span hundreds of acres, which is why the finds took several weeks. “From a distance, too, it looks like a burnt old tree stump. It wasn’t until I came close to realizing that something was off about it. Both farmers thought it was a few weeks away based on the last time he would go nearby.”

Tucker found at least one part number on one of the pieces and asked SpaceX to confirm if this matched the stem. He added, “Having looked at it myself, the way it’s made and the materials are clearly advanced manufacturing. This was not done in someone’s hut. You can see obvious burn marks from re-entry.”

If confirmed as a piece of Dragon, Tucker told ABC that this would be the largest documented piece of space debris in Australia since Skylab broke off from the continent during an uncensored return to Western Australia in 1979.

The NASA space station was uninhabited for several years before an unexpected increase in solar activity “swelled” the Earth’s atmosphere, increasing clouds on Skylab. The agency did its best to direct the station into uninhabited areas. Known debris from the accident includes an oxygen tank, a hatch, and even a storage refrigerator.

Related: Skylab Remnants: NASA space station wreckage in Australia (photos)

SpaceX’s potential wreckage is on a relatively small scale compared to the Chinese’s 100-foot (30-meter) Long March 5B core stage that is expected to return to Earth this weekend. In any case, the odds of any space debris posing a problem for Earthlings are infinitesimal.

The United States and most international space agencies have practices that govern how space debris is handled, with Americans following the government established standard practices for mitigating orbital debris. (Opens in a new tab).

If the Dalgety wreck is confirmed, it wouldn’t be the first time a significant portion of SpaceX’s hardware has fallen to Earth. Debris from a SpaceX launch in April 2021 appeared at a ranch in central Washington, which at the time was connected to the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket. The 2021 wreckage has been confirmed to have been created by SpaceX by the Grant County Sheriff’s Office; SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment.