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List of space debris fall incidents

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Cylindrical rocket fragment on sand, with men looking at it
Saudi officials inspect a crashed PAM-D module in January 2001.

Space debris usually burns up in the atmosphere, but larger debris objects can reach the ground intact. According to NASA, an average of one cataloged piece of debris has fallen back to Earth each day for the past 50 years. Despite their size, there has been no significant property damage from the debris.[1] Burning up in the atmosphere may also contribute to atmospheric pollution.[2] Numerous small cylindrical tanks from space objects have been found, designed to hold fuel or gasses.[3]

Notable examples of space debris falling to Earth and impacting human life include:


  • 1969: five sailors on a Japanese ship were injured when space debris from what was believed to be a Soviet spacecraft struck the deck of their boat.[4]
  • 1978: the Soviet reconnaissance satellite Kosmos 954 reentered the atmosphere over northwest Canada and scattered radioactive debris over northern Canada, some landing in the Great Slave Lake.[4]
  • 1979: portions of Skylab came down over Australia, and several pieces landed in the area around the Shire of Esperance, which fined NASA $400 for littering.[4]
  • 1987: a 7-foot strip of metal from the Soviet Kosmos 1890 rocket landed between two homes in Lakeport, California, causing no damage.
  • 1991: Salyut 7 underwent an uncontrolled reentry on 7 February over the city of Capitán Bermúdez in Argentina.[5]
  • 1997: an Oklahoma woman, Lottie Williams, was hit, without injury, in the shoulder by a 10 cm × 13 cm (3.9 in × 5.1 in) piece of blackened, woven metallic material confirmed as part of the propellant tank of a Delta II rocket which launched a U.S. Air Force satellite the year before.[6][7]

From 2000

  • 2001: a Star 48 Payload Assist Module (PAM-D) rocket upper stage re-entered the atmosphere after a "catastrophic orbital decay",[8] crashing in the Saudi Arabian desert. It was identified as the upper-stage rocket for NAVSTAR 32, a GPS satellite launched in 1993.[9]
  • 2002: 6-year-old boy Wu Jie became the first person to be injured by direct impact from space debris. He suffered a fractured toe and a swelling on his forehead after a block of aluminum, 80 centimeters by 50 centimeters and weighing 10 kilograms, from the outer shell of the Resource Second satellite struck him as he sat beneath a persimmon tree in the Shaanxi province of China.[3]
  • 2003: Columbia disaster, large parts of the spacecraft reached the ground and entire equipment systems remained intact.[10] More than 83,000 pieces, along with the remains of the six astronauts, were recovered in an area from three to ten miles around Hemphill in Sabine County, Texas.[11] More pieces were found in a line from west Texas to east Louisiana, with the westernmost piece found in Littlefield, Texas and the easternmost found southwest of Mora, Louisiana.[12] Debris was found in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. In a rare case of property damage, a foot-long metal bracket smashed through the roof of a dentist office.[13] NASA warned the public to avoid contact with the debris because of the possible presence of hazardous chemicals.[14] 15 years after the failure, people were still sending in pieces with the most recent, as of February 2018, found in the spring of 2017.[15]
  • 2007: airborne debris from a Russian spy satellite was seen by the pilot of a LAN Airlines Airbus A340 carrying 270 passengers whilst flying over the Pacific Ocean between Santiago and Auckland. The debris was reported within 9.3 kilometres (5 nmi) of the aircraft.[16]
  • 2016: on 2 November, the upper stage of Vega flight VV01 launched on 13 February 2012 reentered over the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. A composite overwrapped pressure vessel survived reentry and was recovered.[17][18][19][20]
  • 2020: The empty core stage of a Chinese Long March-5B rocket made an uncontrolled re-entry - the largest object to do so since the Soviet Union's 39-ton Salyut 7 space station in 1991 – over Africa and the Atlantic Ocean and a 12-meter-long pipe originating from the rocket crashed into the village of Mahounou in Côte d'Ivoire.[21]
  • 2021:
    • A Falcon 9 second stage made an uncontrolled re-entry over Washington on March 25, producing a widely seen "light show".[22] SpaceX retrieved a piece of debris, a composite-overwrapped pressure vessel, that landed on a farm in Washington.[23] Another piece of debris, likely a pressure vessel as well, also survived the re-entry and washed up ashore in Oregon.[24]
    • In September, a high-pressure helium bottle weighing 50 kg from the aft end of the Centaur upper stage of an Atlas V rocket (international designator 2019 -094A) was discovered in south-eastern Australia near the town of Yambuk, Victoria.[25]
  • 2022:
  • 2023:
  • 2024:
    • On 8 March 2024, a cylindrical metal object weighing nearly 2 pounds (0.91 kg) struck a house in Naples, Florida causing damage to property.[48][49] The object was a piece of EP9 battery pallet jettisoned from ISS in 2021 and survived reentry when its orbit decayed.[50][51][52][53]
    • On 28 April 2024, a large fragment of space debris bearing scorch marks was found on a farm in Ituna (Saskatchewan, Canada). The piece of space debris had carbon fiber composite and honeycomb structure, weighing nearly 100 pounds (45 kg). It is speculated to be part of Axiom 3 Dragon trunk section that reentered on 26 February over that region.[54]
    • On 21 May 2024, a fragment of reentered space debris was found in Haywood County (North Carolina, US). Charred object was 4 × 3.5 feet in size, weighed nearly 90 pounds (41 kg) and had carbon fiber dotted with metallic embeds as construction material.[55][56] On same day about 40 miles (64 km) away another smaller piece of debris was found in Macon County, NC after it struck a homeowner's roof.[57][58] Both fragments belong to trunk section of SpaceX Crew-7 Dragon spacecraft which reentered on same day.[59][60]


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  4. ^ a b c U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, "Orbiting Debris: A Space Environmental Problem" Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Background Paper, OTA-BP-ISC-72, U.S. Government Printing Office, September 1990, p. 3
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  14. ^ "Debris Warning" Archived 17 October 2015 at the Wayback Machine NASA.
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  16. ^ Jano Gibson, "Jet's flaming space junk scare" Archived 6 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine, The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 March 2007.
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  21. ^ O'Callaghan, Jonathan (12 May 2020). "Chinese Rocket Debris May Have Fallen On Villages In The Ivory Coast After An Uncontrolled Re-Entry". Retrieved 7 May 2021.
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