Metal thought to be International Space Station trash rips through Florida home

3 weeks ago

Nasa is investigating after a sizable chunk of metal believed to be part of a discarded battery pallet from the Space Station crashed through the roof and two stories of a house in Florida.

Engineers for the American outerspace exploration agency are analyzing the cylindrical slab, which weighs about 2lb and tore through the home in Naples on the afternoon of 8 March.

“It was a tremendous sound. It almost hit my son. He was two rooms over and heard it all,” the homeowner, Alejandro Otero, told WINK News. “Something ripped through the house and then made a big hole on the floor and on the ceiling.”

Otero said he was away on vacation when the object struck.

The scientific journal Ars Technica said the most likely explanation is that the chunk was from the space station (ISS). It noted that the US space command recorded the re-entry of a piece of space debris over the Gulf of Mexico on a path towards south-west Florida at 2.29pm that day, just five minutes before Otero’s Nest home security camera captured the sound of the crash.

“It used to have a cylindrical shape, and you can tell by the shape of the top that it traveled in this direction through the atmosphere,” Otero said.

A Nasa spokesperson, Josh Finch, told Ars Technica that the analysis was taking place “as soon as possible to determine its origin”, although some space experts believe they already know the answer.

A 2.9-tonne pallet used for a battery upgrade on the ISS was jettisoned in March 2021, the largest object in terms of mass ever ejected from the orbiting outpost, Nasa said at the time.

It was scheduled to make an “uncontrolled re-entry” sometime between 7 and 9 March, with the Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan McDowell posting to X that “it will not totally burn up on re-entry”.

“About half a tonne of fragments will likely hit the Earth’s surface,” McDowell wrote.

Otero responded to McDowell’s tweet with photos of the damage and said he left messages with Nasa that were not returned. Now he wants to know who will pay for the damage to his home.

Ars Technica said it could be a complicated issue to resolve because the exact origin of the chunk has not yet been determined. It said the batteries were owned by Nasa but attached to a pallet structure launched by the Japanese space agency Jaxa.

The European Space Agency (ESA) monitored the pallet during its descent – and calculated that “while some parts may reach the ground, the casualty risk, the likelihood of a person being hit, is very low”.

Uncontrolled re-entries are not uncommon, Esa added. “A large space object re-enters the atmosphere in a natural way approximately once per week, with the majority of the associated fragments burning up before reaching the ground,” it said.

“Most spacecraft, launch vehicles and operational hardware are designed to limit the risks associated with a re-entry.”

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