SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – Locals near a sheep farm in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, heard a loud boom on July 9. Now, the Australian Space Agency has confirmed that the it was caused by debris from a SpaceX rocket.
Specifically, the agency said space junk from the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Mick Miners stumbled upon one of the objects while herding sheep. It was pointy, black and looked more than nine feet tall, said a report in The New York Times.
“Pretty frightening, actually,” said Miners, 48, by phone on Thursday, according to the outlet “I was quite surprised,” he added. “It’s not something you see every day on a sheep farm.”
Miners shared a photo of the object with Jock Wallace, a neighboring farmer. Wallace found a similarly mysterious object on his farm around the same time.
In addition to the Australian Space Agency, NASA said that SpaceX confirmed the pieces were likely from one of their spacecrafts.
SpaceX was founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk – who is most well known as the CEO of Tesla – in 2002. Since then, the Hawthorne, Calif.-headquartered company has had 172 launches. According to the SpaceX website, there have been 35 Dragon spacecraft launches.
“The Dragon spacecraft is capable of carrying up to [seven] passengers to and from Earth orbit, and beyond,” SpaceX said. “It is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth, and is the first private spacecraft to take humans to the space station.”
So far, three pieces of space junk have fallen in the New South Wales area, which the ABC said are “considered to be the biggest pieces found in Australia since 1979.”
Experts from the Australian Space Agency and NSW Police inspected two of the pieces Saturday. It has been determined that the debris came from a spacecraft launched in November 2020 that is now re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
“The agency has confirmed the debris is from a SpaceX mission and continues to engage with our counterparts in the U.S., as well as other parts of the Commonwealth and local authorities as appropriate,” an Australian Space Agency spokesperson said, per the ABC’s report.
Eventually, the pieces are expected to be transported to the U.S.
“The agency is operating under the Australian Government Space Re-entry Debris Plan which outlines roles and responsibilities for key Australian government agencies and committees in supporting the response to space re-entry debris,” it added.
People in the New South Wales-area were warned that more debris could continue falling in Australia.
“If the community spots any further suspected debris they should not attempt to handle it or retrieve it,” the country’s space agency said.
People who do are asked to contact the SpaceX Debris Hotline at 1-866-623-0234 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year, other SpaceX debris fell on a farm in Washington state, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Earlier this year, there were reports that SpaceX rocket debris would create a crater on the moon. However, The New York Times reported that the scientist who predicted the impact later said he was wrong, and that a Chinese space agency rocket was actually expected to collide with the moon.
Benjamin Reed, senior director of SpaceX’s human spaceflight program, told reporters during a livestreamed NASA Crew-5 press briefing Thursday that the company was aware of the reports from Australia, according to Space.com. He emphasized that there were “no injuries, no damage” associated with the reports and that it was on “an expected path,” for such debris.
“It’s part of the process that we do with NASA and with FAA [the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration], internally,” Reed said. "We use models that are ultimately approved, to predict and plan for these things.”