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A large object landed on his sheep farm. It came from the room.

Written by Javed Iqbal

Mick Miner shepherd sheep on a four-wheeler last week when he tripped over a spiky black object that looked more than 9 feet tall. It reminded him of either a burnt tree or a piece of farm machinery.

“Pretty scary, actually,” Miners, 48, said by phone Thursday from his roughly 5,000-hectare property in a remote corner of southeastern Australia.

“I was quite surprised,” he added. “It’s not something you see every day on a sheep farm.”

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Miners took a photo and sent it to a neighboring farmer, Jock Wallace, who happened to have discovered a similar mysterious object on his farm a few days earlier.

It was space debris.

The US space agency, NASA, said in a statement that SpaceX confirmed that the object was likely the remaining part of the discarded trunk segment from a Dragon spacecraft used during the Crew-1 mission’s return from the International Space Station last May . “If you believe you have identified a piece of debris, do not attempt to handle or retrieve the debris,” NASA said.

Space debris refers to equipment in space that is no longer functional. Most space debris burns up as it re-enters the atmosphere, and much of what remains often falls into the ocean. But with more spacecraft heading into orbit — such as those from private companies like SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk — impacts on land may occur more frequently. SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said it is not unusual for space debris to be found on land after an uncontrolled reentry.

“It was a bit surprising to me that so much of the trunk survived the re-heating process,” McDowell said, but he added that there was no indication that there was anything particularly risky about the trunk. He said that in the new commercial era of space exploration, it has been much more difficult to get technical information from private companies to assess risk. With more information, “could we have a better assessment of, ‘Did we just get really unlucky, or should we expect this from all those trunk re-entries if they happen overland?’

The baggage compartment, which is used to carry cargo and also includes the spacecraft’s solar panels and radiators, is ejected from the capsule’s body shortly after the burn is complete as it exits orbit. “It typically burns up in the atmosphere over the open ocean, posing minimal risk to public safety,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Last week, after debris from a large Chinese rocket re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson issued a rebuke, saying China “did not share specific trajectory information when their Long March 5B rocket fell back to Earth.” He added that all countries should “share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential risk of debris impact, especially for heavy lift vehicles, like the Long March 5B, which have a significant risk of loss of life and property.”

The possibility that debris from the rocket could have hit a populated area prompted people around the world to track its trajectory for days. This was the third flight of the Long March 5B, China’s largest rocket, which made what is called an “uncontrolled re-entry” back to Earth.

Last year, a malfunction caused a SpaceX rocket stage to complete an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere near Seattle in what looked like bright objects lighting up the night sky. Pieces of the burning rocket debris landed on a farmer’s property in Washington state. The debris had re-entered the atmosphere after 22 days in orbit.

The rural area of ​​Australia where miners discovered the space debris on July 25 is about 100 miles south of the capital, Canberra.

Ron Lane, who owns a restaurant in the town of Dalgety, said most people in the area – with the notable exception of himself – were not particularly concerned about additional space debris potentially landing on them or their homes.

“If there are three we know about, there could be another 10 we don’t know about,” Lane said by phone from his restaurant, Toscana in Dalgety.

Miners, who was born on the farm where he discovered the unidentified debris, said his neighbor, Wallace, had called authorities to report the other debris he had found on his own property earlier in July. Public interest grew, miners said, after Wallace called Australia’s national broadcaster, which later reported on the farmers’ discoveries, saying three pieces of debris had been found.

“Then everyone found out and I’ve had about 300 calls,” said Miner, who has about 5,500 sheep, 100 cattle and 30 horses on his farm in the Numbla Vale district.

His own piece of debris is nearly 10 feet tall by 1.3 feet, he said, and an Australian Space Agency official called Thursday to say its experts planned to visit his property next week to “look at it.”

Miners said he had so far enjoyed learning the preliminary details of how the debris had landed and was not sure what would happen next.

He said he would be “happy to keep it” but was also interested in “a bit of compensation” if the space agencies or the company wanted it back.

Sa’id Mosteshar, professor of international space law and director of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law, said a person would only be able to claim compensation if the debris injured him or her or caused damage to him or her. property.

“I guess they want it back,” added miners. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about that. I’m a sheep breeder, as I said.”

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Javed Iqbal

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