Space Debris
©James Stirton
by Sean Plambeck
Thu, 27 Mar 2008 15:50 EDT

AN outback farmer is on a mission to identify a strange ball of twisted metal - purported to be fallen space junk - which mysteriously turned up on his remote property.

James Stirton of Cheepie, 130km from Charleville in southwestern Queensland, was heading out to feed cattle on his 40,500-hectare property when he came upon the bizarre-looking blackened ball.

"It was just off the road and I had been going up there every couple of days to feed cattle so I would be surprised if it had been there more than a week," Mr Stirton said. 

"We got a shock when we first saw it. I had no idea what it was."

Suspecting it was a piece of space junk, Mr Stirton contacted the Aerospace Corporation - a research arm of the US Government - to get some sort of confirmation.

"I know about sheep and cattle but I don't know much about satellites," he said.

While a spokesman for Aerospace Corp. told NEWS.com.au it was still working to identify the object, aerospace industry sources who contacted Mr Stirton believe it to be part of a rocket launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1998.

Photograph: Reuters/Corbis

Although he made the discovery in November last year, Mr Stirton waited until Easter to launch his own proper investigation into the object's origin.

"I talked to some people in Charleville and got on the internet and kind of figured it out for myself," Mr Stirton said.

He now believes the object is a helium tank wrapped in carbon fibre (similar to the red tanks depicted here) from a booster rocket used to launch communications satellites.

Mr Stirton said the ball appears to have landed partially on a tree stump, making a crater a few centimeters deep before rolling about 5m to its resting spot.

"If it hit you, you wouldn't have gotten up,'' he said.

"We don't get many visitors here but anyone who has seen it has either wanted to touch it or has stood back afraid that someone was going to jump out of it.

"Everybody keeps telling me that it's probably worth a lot of money but no one's offered me anything for it yet."

About 200 pieces of space junk - parts of satellites and jettisoned rockets - re-enter the atmosphere each year.

Most of it disintegrates but some pieces survive the enormous heat generated on re-entry and make it to the ground.

One in a trillion

The chances of being struck by space junk are one in a trillion and the only person ever reportedly struck described it as feeling like a gentle tap on her shoulder.

Yet space technology curator at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum Kerrie Dougherty said the objects could slam into the earth at hundreds of kilometres an hour.

"It's not that uncommon to find something like this, particularly in that part of southwest Queensland because there is a very large area of ground for these objects to fall on," she said.

"They're not falling out there every day but there a few reports of people finding stuff each year."

Ms Dougherty said most rockets were launched over desolate areas or oceans to avoid parts falling on people and modern satellites were equipped with the ability to manoeuvre and fall back to earth over unpopulated areas.

Source: Australia: Mystery metal ball an outback space oddity

Unidentified object appears in Goiás 
(Photo: Danilo Cunha//O Popular/AE)

24th Mar, 2008 - 18h55 - Updated on 24/03/2008 - 21h59

National commission of Nuclear Energy goes to analyze the part to check for radioactivity. Sanitary monitoring recommends that the people do not touch the material.

A sphere, of about one meter in diameter, fell in a farm, Montividiu (GO), this weekend. The object was not heavy and was kneaded with the fall. Inhabitants of the region had not observed the moment when the sphere appeared. The National Institute of Space Research (Inpe) believes the hypothesis of the material to be space garbage.

The agricultural producer Sebastião Marques of the Coast said that the unknown part was hot when it was found. The sphere fell about 150 meters from a house and attracted many curious onlookers. Some expressed fear, others came close to venture opinions on the origin of the unknown object.

A Technician of the Sanitary Monitoring of Goiás had been at the farm on monday (24). They had not collected the object, but they had recommended that the inhabitants do not touch the sphere. The National Commission of Nuclear Energy (Cnen) was informed and must order technician to the place and to analyze if the object has some radioactivity.

SOURCE: Globo.com

Image Source

Flaming Space Junk Narrowly Misses Jet
28th March 2007, 11:15 WST

Pieces of space junk from a Russian satellite coming out of orbit narrowly missed hitting a jetliner over the Pacific Ocean overnight.

The pilot of a Lan Chile Airbus A340, which was travelling between Santiago, Chile, and Auckland, New Zealand, notified air traffic controllers at Auckland Oceanic Centre after seeing flaming space junk hurtling across the sky just five nautical miles in front of and behind his plane about 10pm last night.

According to a plane spotter, who was tuning into a high frequency radio broadcast at the time, the pilot "reported that the rumbling noise from the space debris could be heard over the noise of the aircraft.

"He described he saw a piece of debris lighting up as it re-entered (the earth's atmosphere).

"He was one very worried pilot, as you would imagine.

"Auckland is talking to (an) Aerolineas Argentinas (pilot) who is travelling (in the) opposite direction at 10 degrees further south asking if they wish to turn back to Auckland.

"They have elected to carry on at the moment.

"(It's) not something you come across everyday and I am sure the Lan Chile crew will have a tale to tell."

A spokesman for Airways New Zealand, which provides air navigation services across airspace known as the Auckland Flight Information Region, confirmed the incident this morning.

He said it occurred about 10 minutes after the Lan Chile flight had entered the Auckland Flight Information Region.

Airways New Zealand had been warned by Russian authorities almost two weeks ago that a satellite would be entering the earth's atmosphere sometime today between 10.30am and midday NZ time (6.30-8am WA time).

Airways New Zealand then provided that information to airlines and pilots that would be travelling in that region at that time.

They could then decide for themselves whether they wished to fly during that period.

"But clearly there has been a timing issue," the spokesman said.

"Either the time that was indicated to us was incorrect or the satellite de-orbited early."

Because the timing was wrong, the coordinates of where the satellite was supposed to enter the Earth's atmosphere also turned out to be incorrect.

A formal report about the incident has been logged and recordings of conversations between the pilot and air traffic controllers were expected to be handed over to investigators in the next few days, he said.

The Lan Chile flight landed safely at Auckland Airport early this morning, he said.


SOURCE: West Australian Newspapers

Falling Satellite Misses Jet by Seconds

From The Times
March 29, 2007
Bernard Lagan in Sydney

A jet aircraft with 270 passengers on board was within 35 seconds of crashing into a blazing Russian satellite as it was falling back to earth yesterday.

Pilots of the A340-300 Airbus suddenly saw fiery debris streaking through the midnight darkness, directly ahead of their aircraft, which was travelling at about 800km/h (500mph). The falling metal, about five miles ahead, broke the speed of sound, causing a sonic boom that drowned out the jet’s four engines.

The incident happened over the Pacific Ocean, about four hours southwest of Auckland, about ten minutes after LAN Airlines’ flight LA801 entered the far western reaches of New Zealand’s oceanic flight information region.

Two Australian aviation buffs listening in to flight communications heard the obviously shaken captain of the South American aircraft make contact with New Zealand air traffic controllers to inform them of what had happened.

The New Zealand controllers quickly realised that the LAN flight had nearly collided with a disintegrating Russian communications satellite, which had not been due to reenter the Earth’s orbit for another 12 hours. A spokesman for Airways New Zealand, the government body that provides navigation services across the oceanic airspace, said yesterday that a notice of the impending reentry of the Russian satellite had been issued on March 16 to all airlines operating in the region.

It said the satellite would reenter Earth’s atmosphere at about noon on Wednesday but it came down 12 hours earlier.

The Airways New Zealand spokesman said that in the past notifications from Russia and other nations of the impending reentry of satellites into the southern reaches of the western Pacific had been accurate and reliable. The region is favoured as a dumping ground for space junk because it is almost devoid of human settlement.

One of the aviation buffs who monitored the communications between the aircraft captain and air traffic controllers said the pilot, who had been cruising at 36,000 feet, sounded very shaken.

He said: “The captain said he saw a piece of space debris lighting up as it reentered. He was one very worried pilot, as you would imagine.”

The LAN flight landed safely in Auckland just after 4am local time yesterday. 

SOURCE: The Times

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