1960 TO 1980 SPACE DEBRIS FALLS 2022-10-08T15:02:01-05:00




August 10, 1979 Spheres discovered – Bolivia

An object was found on a farm 200km north of Santa Cruz, Bolivia 70 cm in diameter and 2 m in circumference with a hole in one side and a metal skin covering of approximately 1/2 in. in thickness.  Object described as 3 times the size of a basketball.   It weighs 6 kg. The outside metal is similar to copper. A second object was found near the town of Cotoca. A campesino (during daylight)  looked around the area where he had seen a fireball that night. He found a sphere that was not very heavy. In both cases there were no signs of impact to the ground and the spheres were found in good condition.  There was nothing in the interior. A hole appeared in each one. aug1979 Photo Caption: Benigno Roca and his wife, Lucia Salazar, show the unique sphere they found a few days ago, the content of which is apparently burned. “A space object that fell here a week ago has created widespread anticipation when it was displayed by the military authorities, which, however, have not been able to specify what it is. The unit fell 25 kilometers from this capital on a rural farm and had been hidden by Benigno Roca and his wife, until one of their relatives convinced them that they should acknowledge the fact to the press and the authorities. The Roca couple went yesterday to several media outlets, whose managers were incredulous. Reporters from the newspaper “El Mundo” accompanied them to the farm and found that there had indeed fallen “a sphere made of metal or of some unknown material” that showed signs of being burned.  “It fell on the morning of August 10 and scared the animals,” said Benigno Roca. The news spread quickly and the Military Aviation College intervened, and authorities decided to seize the device. Today they arranged their public display.  “Apparently it’s a fuel tank from a satellite or rocket.  It’s hard to say what it is but I can give assurances that it has been made by man,” said Colonel Ariel Coca, commander of the Military Aviation College.  The material seemed to be an aluminum or iron alloy, about 6,800 grams and a diameter of 80 centimeters.

The interior of the sphere shows melted materials, apparently due to the high temperature the device endured on its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.  The sphere is visibly charred and has three holes which, the military authorities speculate, “might have been for screws to attach this object to a larger piece.”  Colonel Coca said that, probably in the next few hours, experts from La Paz, the Bolivian Air Force and other agencies will arrive to investigate what it is. “Only specialists can say what it is,” he said. It is known that the high command of the Air Force received a detailed report of the circumstances in which the sphere was found and its possible composition. However, in La Paz military authorities did not make any comment.  According to the official report, based on statements from the Roca couple, in the early morning of August 10 a noise that alarmed pets was heard in the area called La Enconada. Benigno Roca went to investigate what it was in the early hours of that day, because, he said, “I thought it was a fox looking for chickens.” The farmer, however, found “a ball of iron”, and according to his account, he initially was afraid and decided to hide it.  Six days later his cousin, Florencio Roca, convinced him that he should report it to the authorities.  The Rocas have told the press that they consider that the sphere belongs to them “and anyone who wants it can pay for it.” They announced that if someone wants to claim it, they will go to civil court “to enforce our rights. And if they want to take it away from us, we will make a claim for damages that it might have caused if it had fallen on our house.”

Ted Molczan presented a strong circumstantial case that the objects originated from the Delta 149 second stage launch (1979-72B) whose primary payload was WESTAR 3.

Source: Project Moon Dust; http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/FOIA/5%20USC%20%C2%A7%20552(A)(2)(D)%20Records/Other%20Available%20Records/ufo2.pdf

Source: http://marcianitosverdes.haaan.com/2007/05/el-ovni-boludo-de-santa-cruz/

Source: “Clarin” Santa Cruz de la Sierr,a Aug 18. 1979.

Source: http://satobs.org/reentry/1979-072B/1979-072B.html

July 1979: SKYLAB

One of my earlier jobs was as a spaceflight controller at the Johnson Space Center and on the Skylab reentry control team. Although we did everything we could to ensure a safe, controlled reentry, some pieces of the spacecraft survived reentry in 1979 and were recovered in Australia.  Here is a large piece recovered in Australia but preserved at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (courtesy heroicrelics.org ).   skylabtank In addition, the fragment below is retained at the Power House Museum from the SKYLAB fall. Source: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/blog/index.php/2012/01/what-goes-up-must-come-down/skylab-space-station/

A museum in Esperance, Australia houses a number of recovered fragments and debris from this reentry. skylab_water_tank

Water tank


A titanium sphere


Nitrogen tank


Pieces of insulation


Honeycomb material


A hatch


Freezer assembly


Shunt regulator from electrical power system


Large cylinder

Source: http://www.space.com/21122-skylab-space-station-remains-museum.html


A 1979 article in the popular Dutch astronomy magazine, Zenit, details the observations of the Dec 31, 1978 decay of 1978-123B, and the subsequent discovery of a fragment in a farmer’s field. The article begins with Ron Huisman’s report of several observations of the re-entry. It concludes with Bertus Kroon’s description of the analysis that resulted in the identification of the observations as the re-entry of 1978-123B. He also provided the following account of the discovery of the debris, as translated by Google and then clarified by Edwin Mathlener (ZENIT editor): “On January 14, I learned that a few days after the fall of the rocket a farmer from Stolzenau had found a foreign body on his land. The town of Stolzenau lies 33 km west and 3 km north of Hannover on the west bank of the Weser River. The description of the object is: a hollow, blackened cone, 110 cm high and with a maximum diameter of 60 to 70 cm. The top is missing and seems to be torn off with force. Just below the top are two rings or flanges and on the inside of the cone, situated in longitudinal direction, are cooling fins. Under the blackened surface is yellow shiny metal reminiscent of copper or gold. There are no characters found. This description hardly let there be any doubt that the outlet of a rocket is found. Ron Huisman wrote above that the formation of fireballs extinguished just above Jupiter. From his residence at 20h07m this planet was 13° above the horizon, at an azimuth of 74° (east-northeast). The intersection of this direction from Bunnik with the traject that the rocket exactly followed above Stolzenau, lies 2 km north of Kirchdorf, at more than 50 km altitude. This intersection is located about 20 km in front of (northwest of) Stolzenau. The agreement is very good, when we take into account that the fragment came down not at a right angle but at a steep angle of cirça 60°.” 1979hannover_nosecone Source:  “Heavenly fireworks New Year’s Eve”, Zenit, The Netherlands, Mar 1979: 102-104.

An additional acount: Pierre Neirinck worked for the Satellite Observers Group, in London, and participated in the identification of the re-entry of 1978-123B. He described the circumstances of the discovery of the debris in a May 2004 message to the now defunct private mailing list DSat, reproduced here (with minor edits) with permission: “While the rocket was offering a splendid New Year Eve firework to the Dutch, at Bruchagen, near Steyerberg (WGermany), an old lady in bed, Else Schumacher, was awakened by a strange noise. She got up, looked outside, saw nothing in the dark. The noise so disturbed her that she found it difficult to get back to sleep. Meantime, Hilde and Friedhelm Schumacher were on their way to a New Year’s Eve party. They were walking from their lonely smallholding when suddenly they saw several illuminated objects moving slowly at a great height. “At first, we thought it was fireworks but they were far too high and lasted far too long”. Hilde also noticed that the objects followed a gentle curve. One object was large and the other small, both had yellow body and red tails. She was extremely concerned that the objects might fall on their house, and was relieved to see that the N->E took them well over the roof. 78-123b1

Slightly different view of the same object. Courtesy Pierre Neirinck.

Days after, the snow melted and the Schumachers discovered embedded in their field, 200 m from the house, a metal object too large to be carried away. It was dark grey, ~10 kg, skittle shaped. Top: 30 cm diam. Bottom: 77 cm, height 1.10 m. Skin thickness (corrugated): 5mm. Not radioactive.” Ted Molczan offered the following update.  Excellent work was done in 1979 to correlate the observations of December 31, 1978 and the subsequent debris discovery with 1978-123B, the third stage of a Soyuz-U rocket. Our post-cold war knowledge of Soviet/Russian space technology enables an even more precise identification of the debris. The Soyuz-U third stage, which Russia has assigned the model number 11S510, is powered by a single RD-0110 engine, which has four combustion chambers. The debris is the major portion of the nozzle of one of the combustion chambers of 1978-123B. The supporting information and analysis is as follows. Comparing the debris photos with those of an intact RD-0110 engine reveals a great similarity in appearance between the debris and the large combustion chamber nozzles: http://www.russianspaceweb.com/images/rockets/soyuz/stage3/rd_0110_1.jpg   rd_0110_1


The conclusive identification is based on a comparison of the dimensions of the debris with the known corresponding values of the RD-0110 nozzles. In his 2004 comments, Pierre Neirinck reported maximum diameter of 0.77 m; in the 1979 Zenit article, Bertus Kroon reported 0.6 to 0.7 m. Both sources agree that height was 1.1 m. The latter appears to be an estimate of the object’s intact height, derived from the dimensions of the debris, with the simplifying assumption of a conical shape. However, it is clear from the photos that the shape was not conical, but rather bell-like, which suggests a shorter intact height. Therefore, the estimated height is less likely to be decisive than the diameter. The discrepancy between Neirinck and Kroon on the large diameter is resolved by information found in the U.N.’s “List of Reported Space Objects Discovered by Member States within their Territories”, found at the following URL.

The debris in question is listed as object RD-79-01: http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/oosa/natact/sdnps/unlfd.html The relevant info is summarized: Number: RD-79-01 Date of Discovery: January 1979 Notifying State: Federal Republic of Germany Document Symbol: Letter to UN-SG Location of Discovery: near Nienburg/Weser River, FRG Shape: conical Material: metallic Height: 0.75 m Width/Diameter: 0.77 m (base) 0.31 m (apex) The German government confirmed Pierre Neirick’s maximum diameter of 0.77 m. The corresponding dimension of the actual RD-0110 nozzle was reported by V.R. Rubinsky in his 1994 paper, “Combustion Instability in the RD-0110 Engine”: http://books.google.ca/books?id=sobvSF82RVAC&pg=PA89#v=onepage&q&f=false Table 2 states the nozzle exit diameter as 0.764 m, which agrees with the value of 0.77 m reported by Neirinck and the German government. Roughly scaling the Neirinck photo on the basis of that dimension reveals reasonable agreement with Rubinsky Figs. 2 and 3. It is interesting to speculate on what happened to the debris. Germany probably knew its identity, but apparently did not share it with the U.N. Given the intense Cold War interest in the West in Soviet space technology, it is likely that Germany promptly notified the US DoD of the debris via the “Moon Dust” channel that existed for that purpose, and made arrangements for it to be studied by the USAF’s Foreign Technology Division, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Its present location is unknown.

September 11, 1978  COSMOS 1029 ENGINE

Pierre Neirinck’s three images of an object correlated with the decay of 1978-082C / 11018, on 1978 Sep 11 UTC. The RAE Table of Earth Satellites includes a foot note that reads: “A 20 kg, 0.6 m piece was picked up near Garnat-sur-Engievre (Allier), France.” The three images below are courtesy of P. Neirinck,  a dedicated amateur satellite observer who tracked down the information and preserved it. 78-82c-a1   78-82c-b1   78-82c-c1Pierre described how he obtained details of the object, including the photographs, from the police, in a post to the now defunct Dsat list on 2004 May 10. He refreshed his memory by referring to a technical note issued at the time. Here are the relevant paragraphs: <<<< In S.O.N. 695, I find: “The metallic mass fallen from the French sky, on 1978 Sep 11, was finally traced in a Gendarmerie, thanks to my mother & Radio Europe Nr 1 providing all telephone numbers unobtainable from the British Enquiry Service. Major Mercier (Gendarmerie of Moulins) was kind enough to fetch the strange object, to describe it over the phone, to answer any questions and, French authorities permitting, to send photographs. Description: blackened thin double-wall-pot, larger at the base. d=60 cm (base); h=58 cm; 20kg. Exploded? Screws on top flange; 25 cm crack on one side; four 1 cm dia. pipes (2 on top, 2 on sides). Level of radioactivity seems above the one of a luminous watch since a 2 h proximity limit was set. This fast object, whistling over 2 farmers heads, landed spinning and smoking, 300 yards away, leaving a 7 m sliding mark and a final 5 cm crater in the field. Gas? was still escaping. Was reported 2 days later. Before telephoning, I calculated the exact time for the decay of 78-82C over Garnat-sur-Engièvre(Allier): 1655 [UTC]. The rough reported time: 16 1/2 [UTC] happened to be near enough and, as expected, the file revealed a trajectory NW-SW. Therefore COSMOS 1029 engine was the guilty flying saucer. Soviets denied ownership. I ask to scratch the soot. Underneath: CYRILLIC characters! Greeks were obviously innocent.  And we learned from the date engraved by the Russians (1977) when it was built. So, the object was actually heard to descend, quickly found, reported within 2 days. Google Maps has Garnat-sur-Engievre  near 46.63 N, 3.66 E. Using Satevo to propagate USSTRATCOM’s final TLE to decay places the descent trajectory almost exactly over this location, as Pierre found. Jonathan’s satellite catalogue describes object 1978-082C / 11018 as the KDU of Cosmos 1029, which was a Zenit-4MKM imagery reconsat. I believe the KDU is a propulsion module.’

Source: private communication, Ted Molczan May 25, 2013.

But, this is not the end.  In May 2019 I received another private communication from someone claiming that a similar object fell on property in South Carolina, USA in September 1978. No further details were available with the exception that the location was near the Broxton Bridge Memorial State Park Road in Ehrhardt SC.




Notice in the last image the number 150015-06 which bears similarity to the number on the 2nd image at the start of this discussion.

Source: private communication, K. Hayden May 22, 2019.

January 1978: COSMOS 954

A stir was created in January 1978 when pieces of the Soviet Cosmos 954 rained down on Canada. Beryllium rods and cylinders were recovered from the Northwest Territories and were found to be radioactive. “A large piece of the satellite known as the ’antlers’ was discovered quite inadvertently by two young explorers who were part of a team of six adventurers making a voyage in the Thelon River Game Sanctuary, some 400 miles to the east of the eastern tip of Great Slave Lake. They were travelling by dog-sled with two teams of dogs, following the route that had been taken by the English Naturalist John Hornby in the 1920’s.”

Source: http://gsc.nrcan.gc.ca/gamma/ml_e.php


  k954b   k954a   k954e

Various images showing pieces of Cosmos 954

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/44805411@N08/sets/72157622701489115/detail/ http://www.tvaero.com/reentry-safety.shtml


This is a titanium sphere from a U.S. Agena-D spacecraft that survived reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere and impacted Australia in the early 1970s. The sphere was used to store gaseous helium on the spacecraft for propulsion. It is not known exactly what Agena-D the sphere came from or when it returned to Earth. Airteck Dynamic made the sphere and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory donated it to NASM in 1973.  Diameter 60.96cm (24 inches).


                                   Agena pressure sphere. Notice the rather large dent.  


A U.S. reconnaisance satellite ejected a film capsule that sank in 16,000 feet of water. It was recovered after a salvage operation. The photo below is from a declassified report showing the debris at the bottom of the ocean. hexagon_april19723 Source of above photo: http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/724287/1972-05-24.pdf  


The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia contained a sphere that was damaged at some point.  It was gifted to the museum in 1973 which would make the pedigree between 1957 and 1972. The description of the fragment is: Satellite fragments (2), titanium / vanadium / aluminium, maker unknown, USSR, found in New South Wales, Australia, 1957-1972. powerhousemuseumf1 Two fragments from a Russian satellite. They are the remains of spherical pressure vessels made of of metal with an original diameter of 14.9 inches. One fragment is a spherical pressure vessel with the upper segment burnt away during re-entry, leaving a slashed, jagged rim. The other fragment is similar from which test pieces were removed by the Department of Supply to determine the type of material used in construction. Both fragments are discoloured, a dark brown due to scorching, and have congealed slag deposits. powerhousemuseumf2 Photos of two fragments from Powerhouse Museum. 

Source: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/?irn=210707&img=169490

These fragments were found in October 1972 on Dobikin Merino Stud, Bellata. Impact location Lat 29°54″ S, Long 149°44″ E. Three fragments found, the last is still with the donor.


The following is an account of the discovery of one of a number of metal spheres found in NewZealand between 1970 and 1972. “Ashburton farmer Denis O’Sullivan received a gift from outer space nearly forty years ago.  A 20 kilogram, titanium sphere the size of a beachball dropped from the heavens onto his farm in 1972 and has been kept in a corner of his lounge ever since. nzball1972 The ball was part of a Russian spacecraft that fell out of orbit above the South Island on April 3. South Island residents reported rumbling and lights in the sky on the night of the incident. Over the next few weeks, farmers around Ashburton discovered five of the large metal ”space balls” on their property. The release of government files on UFO sightings, including the official report on the Ashburton Space Balls, has cast fresh light on the incident.  O’Sullivan was 17 when he discovered his space ball on May 11. nzk482_1972 A second metal ball found in the region. ”I remember it well. I picked it up myself. It was in a turnip field. I saw this mound in the paddock and I thought it was a dead sheep. I went closer and there was this metal ball lying there next to a bit of a hollow about three feet away,” he said. ”I picked it up and carried it back to the truck. It was sitting on my lap in the truck on the way back to the farm. We called the police and the first thing they did was get everyone to stay away from the scene and then a policeman hung his wristwatch over it to see if it was radioactive. I thought: ‘It’s a bit late for that, it has been sitting on my lap on the way back.” The ball was taken away for investigation by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.  The government report states the balls were found not to be radioactive in testing at a laboratory in Christchurch. The report concluded the balls were part of the Russian rocket Kosmos 482 which failed when launching a Venus probe. The balls, which had Russian markings, were used to pressurise fuel tanks or as stabilization jets, the report states. Russia refused to lay claim to the debris and so the balls were returned to the farmers that found them. O’Sullivan said he once put the ball on eBay with a reserve of $500,000, but it did not sell.  ”It is pretty unique. There are not too many of these that fell from a spacecraft. How do you value it? What price would you put on it? It is not something you would sell to a scrap dealer,” he said. John Lindores found a space ball on his property on April 3. The ball is on permanent loan to the Ashburton Aviation Museum.  ”We thought it was an April Fool’s joke to start with. The police came and took it away. It caused quite a stir at the time. They treated it with great care because they were afraid it was radioactive. They took it to Ashburton jail and locked it up for the night.”

Source:  http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/the-kiwi-x-files/4542804/Government-report-on-space-balls-released

Source: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=2351068

December 1971: MARS 3 LANDER

On Dec. 2, 1971, the former Soviet Union racked up another space-first by landing a probe on the surface of Mars. The revelry was short-lived, however. Fourteen seconds after touch down, radio communications from the Mars 3 lander were cut off, possibly due to a raging dust storm. Fast-forward 41 years and the first visible evidence of Mars 3 has re-emerged, courtesy of NASA’s sharp-eyed Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. A new analysis of a five-year old MRO image, coupled with a second shot taken on March 10, shows what appears to be the lander and three other pieces of Mars 3 hardware — the parachute, heat shield and landing rocket — on the planet’s surface. 1971Mars3lander Source: http://news.discovery.com/space/tantalizing-signs-of-soviet-era-mars-lander-found-by-nasa-probe-130415.htm


Although the exact date of the recovery of the first stage of the Black Arrow R3 rocket is not precisely known, the above date is that of the launch of the final such rocket in the series.  This is the rocket that launched the Prospero satellite into orbit and it makes the United Kingdom the only nation to have successfully launched a satellite into orbit and then abandoned the program.

The first stage is shown above on display at Williams Creek, Australia after its launch from the Woomera Rocket range.  They were recovered at the Anna Creek cattle station, the world’s largest cattle station located in South Australia.

Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2016/05/03/russian-authorities-retrieve-soyuz-booster-wreckage-in-siberia/

June 29, 1971: SOYUZ 11 CRASH

The second expedition to Salyut-1 ended tragically when the crew died because of decompression of their capsule during descent. soyz11crashphoto Soyuz 11 vehicle after land soyuz11crash In a particularly harrowing image, would-be rescuers offer initial support to the bearded Georgi Dobrovolski. Little did they know at the time that all three men had been dead for far too long for resuscitation to have any positive effect. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts Soyuz 11  was the first and only manned mission to board the world’s first space station, Salyut-1 (Soyuz 10 had soft-docked but had not been able to enter due to latching issues).  The mission arrived at the space station on June 7, 1971 and departed on June 30, 1971. The mission ended in disaster when the crew capsule  depressurized during preparations for re-entry, killing the three-man crew

Source: http://www.americaspace.com/?p=34951

1970: Spheres discovered – Chad

On October 10 it was reported that two spheres fell in the region. An object was visible falling from the sky on August 1 producing 3 loud explosions and burning for 5 days. The sphere weighs 30 lb and has a circumference of 4 ft. A second object was found in the same general area. It weighs 20 lb and has a shaft 3 ft 2 in. in length.  A cylindrical weight 4 in. in diameter moves freely on the shaft. A bronze fitting on the shaft is well worn.

Source: Project Moon Dust; http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/FOIA/5%20USC%20%C2%A7%20552(A)(2)(D)%20Records/Other%20Available%20Records/ufo2.pdf


September 4, 1970 pieces of Cosmos 316 rocket launched in December 1969 were discovered in several US states. Large pieces were found in Pratt, Kansas and Beaver, Oklahoma.  The pieces weighted 150 lb and 240 lb, respectively. cosmos316piece Tom Gibson, an oil company superintendent uses a shovel to support a metal object which came down near Pratt, Kansas on land leased by his company.

Source: http://www.ebay.com/itm/1970-Press-Photo-Tom-Gibson-Shovel-piece-Soviet-Cosmos-316-Satellite-/281010598367

1970: Sphere discovered – Bolivia

An object fell in an area with 3 loud explosions and burned for some days.  A sphere 18 in. in diameter and weighing 20-25 lb. The two halves of the sphere are welded together. At each end of the sphere are two ports which have been welded closed.   The sphere shows evidence of burning and several light streaks run through burned areas.   The object resembles a pressurized fuel tank.

Source: Project Moon Dust; http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/FOIA/5%20USC%20%C2%A7%20552(A)(2)(D)%20Records/Other%20Available%20Records/ufo2.pdf

1970: APOLLO 5 LM-1 TANK

The first Apollo lunar module was flown in a test environment in space in 1968. The descent stage of the module reentered the Earth’s atmosphere in 1968 but was not recovered until 1970 in Colombia, South America. A portion of the recovered stage is shown below. LM-1_apollo5_tanksection Above image courtesy of heroicrelics.org.


There has existed documentation of an apparent impact on a Japanese cargo ship by a piece of Soviet space debris.  This account has been thoroughly investigated by officials from the Japanese maritime agency. In a series of reports to the United Nations, this report has determined that this ship suffered damage and injries as a result of an impact by an aerial object. Rather than it being space debris, the investigation concludes it was a Soviet missile striking the water as well as pieces of the missile impacting the ship.  One news account appears here: https://www.nytimes.com/1969/07/05/archives/soviet-space-debris-hits-japanese-ship-injuring-5.html 

In the interest of clarity my colleague in Japan has researched reports that circulated at the time. The translations indicate the conclusion described above that the Japanese goverment investigated this in detail and concluded it was by a Soviet-made training cruise missile launched  by mistake  and therefore not rocket debris..

Source 2-1 (in Japanese but subject to online Google translation–see paragraph 75):
where this source is The 61st House of Councilors, Transport Committee No. 23 June 17, 1969
Source 2-2 (in Japanese but subject to online Google translation–see paragraph 10):
where this source is The 61st House of Representatives, July 10, 1969



A recently declassified Australia Air Force set of documents referenced a sphere which was found in late 1968.  Inkerman Station is a cattle property situated on 135,000 hectares, north-west of Normanton in far north Queensland.  The sphere was given over the US embassy in 1969 reportedly.  1968inkermanstationAUSa A group of people posing with the object which is around 24 inches in diameter. 1968inkermanstationAUSb A closeup of the sphere. 1968inkermanstationAUSc The sphere and its finder, Billy Adam 

Source: memo 18 December 1968 from Royal Australian Air Force Townsville HQTVL/5/40/Air(62)


Four objects fell the night of March 25/26 in Nepal.  There is a large triangular piece from a motor nozzle; the second object is a circular metal disc which is an electrical connector; a 3rd object is an oval piece and appears to be the base of an aerial.  A large 4th piece is a motor nozzle. The report references “Cosmos 208”.  However, per analysis in 2015 by Ted Molczan, the debris is from the rocket body, not the payload which made a controlled descent into the Soviet Union.

Source: Project Moon Dust; http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/FOIA/5%20USC%20%C2%A7%20552(A)(2)(D)%20Records/Other%20Available%20Records/ufo2.pdf

Source: private communication from T. Molczan Februrary 22, 2015.

April 23,1967 SOYUZ 1 CRASH

Soyuz 1 crashed in the Crimea resulting in the death of Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. soy1crsh One of few images of the Soyuz 1 crash site ever to be released in the post-Soviet era. Somewhere in the midst of this burning mass of twisted metal lay the remains of the first man to die during a space mission. Photo Credit: Roscosmos.

Source: http://www.americaspace.com/?p=17776

August 17, 1967 Large Satellite Debris-Sudan

“Local press reported that a satellite, cube shaped, weighing approximately 3 tons was discovered was discovered 50 miles from Kutum.  Satellite was described being made of soft metal, presumably aluminum, in oblong cures measuring 2 inches x 1 inch tightly fastened together and covered by a silky material. Nationality not identified as there were in inscriptions.

Source: Project Moon Dust; http://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/Documents/FOIA/5%20USC%20%C2%A7%20552(A)(2)(D)%20Records/Other%20Available%20Records/ufo2.pdf

February 7, 1967 Delta Rocket Titanium Pressure Sphere – Mexico

The object recovered weighed about 75 lb and was 25 inches in diameter. It was observed to fall on the Las Ancuitas Communcal Farm near Monterrey, Mexico. It was visually seen by peasants on the farm as a flaming object. The observers were afraid to touch it and eventually the authorities were contacted. A search party from Monterrey brought the object in on Feb. 20. It was described as an aluminum sphere containing 2 holes, each 3/4 inches deep and threaded. A welded seam runs around the surface. The State Prosecutor of Nueva Leon Jesus Espinoza was reported to have to in his possession.

“From the description in the above telexes, the recovered object clearly was a titanium pressurant sphere. Based on its size and mass, it appeared to belong to a Delta rocket second stage. USSTRATCOM reported that such a stage (1966-096B / 2515) re-entered on 1967 Feb 09 UTC. That was two days after the re-entry sighting, but my analysis reveals that it was more likely to have decayed on Feb 7 UTC, and that if it came down near the time of the sightings from General Terán, NL (16:30 UTC), then it would have passed nearly overhead. That is very strong circumstantial evidence.”


Source 1: http://www.afu.se/Downloads/Books_and_documents/Digitized_by_AFU/Quest_Publications/Quest_Publications_028-Intelligence_document_package-number_4.pdf

Source 2: personal communication from Ted Molczan, September 7, 2016.

Source 3: Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos

October 13, 1966 Sphere Discovery – USA

“Officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have identified a metal sphere found by a Wisconsin forest ranger as space debris which re-entered the atmosphere. The charred object, slightly more than a foot in diameter, was found Oct. 13 near Tomahawk, Wis .Air Force officials declined to say whether the object was American or Soviet.” The sphere is reported to be made of titanium .37m in diameter and weighing 13.6kg.

Source: http://www.newspapers.com/newspage/52937353/ http://www.aerospace.org/cords/reentry-data-2/summary-of-recovered-reentry-debris/


“At 20:55 hours of December 6, 1965, several reputed witnesses observed a formation of seven lights moving during 1.5 minutes in a NW-SE direction from Arroyomolinos de León, a village in the Huelva province, close to the border of the Badajoz province and not far from Sevilla province, in the South of Spain. This sighting was not reported to the press but it was known by Spanish ufologist Ignacio Darnaude, who in turn informed his colleagues. At 21:00 hours, a series of explosions were heard by a shepherd near Montemolín and he saw a burning object that fell from the sky one kilometer from his position with a noise “like a train arriving to a station”.The following days several spheres and other metallic objects were found at three different locations, Fuente de Cantos and Montemolin (in the Badajoz province) and Lora del Río (Sevilla province), three villages separated by 100 km and perfectly aligned in a NW-SE track. The discovered debris was retrieved and submitted to the Air Force staff and inspected -initially- by technicians from the Talavera La Real AFB and then by scientists from the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA), the National Institute of Aerospace Technics. These news were published in the Spanish press, even with photographs of the recovered spheres.” 1965_SPAIN_ENGINEPART1A There were five objects (three spheres of 38 cm in diameter, one sphere of 25 cm in diameter and one rocket engine of 36×19 cm) located. “There were four spherical bottles and a cylindrical rocket motor case, all manufactured with titanium alloys, with steel and molybdenum also identified. The three larger spheres were gas-pressure storage bottles, the small sphere was possibly a component in a hydrogen reservoir system with remote valve control. The rocket motor case was to provide propulsion. It was deduced that the temperature attained during high-velocity reentry rose above the melting point of titatium (3,000º F) for only a fairly short period, after which friction was reduced allowing the vessels to cool nearly to ambient temperature (certainly below 500º F) by the time of earth impact. Impact velocities were probably in the range of 100 to 200 mph.” 1965_SPAIN_SPHERE1AOur own investigation has resolved that the alignment of the debris on the Spanish surface and the specific date (December 6, 1965) matches the last orbit of the decay of a SL-6 platform booster. It was a unannounced Russian launch conducted on December 3, 1965 with the probable mission of achieving the soft landing of Lunik 8 on the Moon. “

Source: http://fotocat.blogspot.com/2009_04_13_archive.html

August 21, 1965 GEMINI V BOOSTER

Recovery of part of the first stage of NASA’s Gemini V Booster, the first to ever be retrieved from space was made by the U.S.S. Dupont. The booster was used to launch the Gemini VSpacecraft from Cape Kennedy, Florida, and re-entered the earth’s atmosphere 450 miles N.E. of Cape Kennedy. 1965geminiVbooster Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Recovery_of_Gemini_V_Booster_-_GPN-2002-000191.jpg

April 5, 1965 Agena Pressure Sphere

A metal sphere with a diameter of 310mm and weighing 4.16 kg was found near the town of Boras, Sweden. The sphere hit the ground in a muddy area close to a lake. It was estimated the sphere hit the ground at 70m/sec but was mostly intact though a dent can be seen in the image below.  According to analysis by Ted Molczan this correlates with the decay of 1965-026A; the reentry was seen from Austria and Germany the day before the sphere was located.  The final orbit would have passed over the location of the find. 040565Sweden   Source: AFU Newsletter Issue 46, July 2003

Source: personal communication from Ted Molczan January 12, 2014

January 13, 1965 Titan 3A Trans-stage Rocket Booster jan131965
FOTOCAT entry dated January 13, 1965 at Lavalle, province of Mendoza (Argentina) represented the picture of an aluminum cylinder 4 X 1.15 m found on the ground that day and believed to be space debris (see picture.)  This appears to correlate with the reentry of atrans-stage rocket booster that decayed on December 1964. Now this has been confirmed: the reentry took place on December 13, 1964 at 01:07UTC (22:07 on December 12th local time) near Laguna Guanacache. It was launched on 1964 Dec 10 UTC, re-entered Dec 13 UTC, and the debris was discovered one month Ted Molczan’s calculations of the orbital track agreed with the landing area. Complementarily, the Aerospace Corp. register of recovered reentry debris has it listed in item # 13 of its summary table:


A translation of the description states that the cover of the tank had 77 “nails” with the inscription “NAS 1003-6/H”.

Source: http://fotocat.blogspot.com.es/2014_09_25_archive.html

Source: private communication, Ted Molczan October 5, 2014.


A film capsule accidentally landed and was recovered by farmers in Venezuela. corona_venezuela_april1974a

Source of photo above: http://www.nro.gov/foia/declass/CAL-Photos.html


A pressure sphere (no photo available) was found by Colin Johnson, a stockman, while mustering on a pastoral property near Mt. Stuart, Australia.  This location is 240 miles north of Broken Hill and 60 miles from Boullia Station (see next report below).  The sphere is reported to be 16 inches in diameter and weighs 18 pounds.

Source: Radio Australia NEWS, July 6, 1963

1963: April PRESSURE SPHERE 1963_apr_09   The photo above shows Ken Rossen, a pilot from Broken Hill Air Taxis carrying the metal ball from his plane after he had brought it from Boullia Station.  One of two lugs on the ball can be seen in the image. British and Australian scientists have established that a charred metal sphere, with a diameter of 14inches and weighing about 5.5kg (12 lb), found on a remote sheep station some 100 miles north of Broken Hill, NSW, was once part of a space vehicle. The Australian Minister for Supply, Mr Fairhall, describes the sphere’s survival of re-entry and Earth impact as “a million to one chance.” The sphere is thought to be of Soviet origin.

Source: The Telegraph, Sydney, Australia, April 10, 1963. http://www.defence.gov.au/on_the_record/docs/woomera03.pdf

However, it may alternatively related to a US Agena rocket stage.  The characteristics are similar to the content of http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19750004950.pdf


“On May 15, 1960 Russian scientists launched a 5 ton spaceship known in the western world as Sputnik IV (the official Russian name is Korabl-Sputnik 1). It was the first satellite designed for the purpose of human spaceflight. This top secret satellite contained a pressurized cabin and life support equipment. Reports were widespread that the satellite also carried a life-sized “mannequin cosmonaut”. If such reports were correct, the mannequin must have been an ancestor to cosmonaut “Ivan Ivanovich”, a dummy that flew on subsequent Sputnik missions. Photo: Ivan Ivanovich, the dummy cosmonaut that flew on Sputnik 9 and 10. “MAKET”, Russian for “dummy”, was displayed inside Ivanovich’s helmet to prevent public panic after his return to earth.

Unfortunately, the flight of Sputnik IV was doomed. Five days after launch, the rocket re-entry system was activated to bring Sputnik IV back to earth. A major malfunction caused the capsule to become incorrectly oriented…it drifted into space. Sputnik IV remained trapped in its unwanted orbit until September 5, 1962.”

Source: http://www.meteoriteswanted.com/sputnik_iv.htm

March/ June 1962: Mercury MA6 (Atlas 109D) Debris

In March and June 1962, 11 pieces of stainless steel skin (average mass 2.7 kg) and one sustainer rocket engine spherical pressure bottle (0.56 m diameter, mass 21.7 kg) were found in Brazil and South Africa.  The were identified as pieces from Atlas 109D booster for Mercury MA-6 mission, launched Feb. 20, 1962.  Reentry sightings and debris falls that correlate with Atlas 109D also occurred over Minas Gerais, Brazil, less than 20 min. before the South African events. mercuryMA6

4 x 5 inch piece of the rocket was recovered in South Africa

Source: http://library.osu.edu/projects/friendship-7/rocket.html Source: Seesat-l Digest, Vol 1, Issue 13 Source: IMAGE Source: http://www.aerospace.org/cords/reentry-data-2/summary-of-recovered-reentry-debris/ sphere1_1962atlas109D A 21-inch, 47kg sphere (above) was found in the Atlas 109D debris field.  It is a titanium alloy spherical helium bottle originally located near the tail of the 109-D.

Source: http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/4665081

September 5, 1962 Sputnik IV

One of the earliest recorded man-made space debris falls occurred in Manitowoc, Wisconsin on September 5, 1962. A piece of Sputnik IV fell in on North 8th street and was recovered there. It was 0.15m in size and 9.5 kg in mass. And even though the original piece was ultimately returned to the Russians, there is an intensely realistic piece of it protected in a glass case inside the Rahr-West Museum. There is also a small brass ring in the middle of the street that commemorates the fall.


Pictured here are the squad car officers who first saw the remnant of Sputnik, which had apparently just fallen on this spot at the end of North Eighth and Park Street in front of the Rahr West Art Museum. (then known as Rahr Civic Center) Officers Ronald Rusboldt and Marvin Bauch are pictured at the site of the landing. They were particularly astute at associating the news of the disintegrating of Russian Sputnik IV over Wisconsin with their recovery of this sizable piece of hot metal.


The figure above marks the spot where the Manitowoc fragment hit the street.

The above map shows the track of the reentry and locations of recovered fragments around the church all of which appear to line up with the ground track and main fragment that fell into the street.

Source: http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1962SAOSR.109…15M&data_type=PDF_HIGH&whole_paper=YES&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf

In June 1969 pieces of another Soviet spacecraft fell on the deck of a Japanese freighter sailing off the former USSR.


Mercury 4 was launched July 21, 1961. Gus Grissom, the 3rd astronaut to return from space, rode the spacecraft for 15 minutes before landing in the ocean. Liberty Bell 7 sank after a hatch blew open and it dropped to a depth of 5 km into the water. After a 14 year search an expedition in 1999 uncovered the spacecraft and raised it to the surface where this piece of space debris is now stored in a museum. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury-Redstone_4


A solitary cow is grazing in a meadow in the south of Cuba. On the other side of the Caribbean Sea, at the United States launch center, Cape Canaveral, a Thor DM-21 rocket is launched into space carrying a satellite. But something goes wrong. On the way to the stratosphere, Thor explodes and a part of its fuselage hits the Cuban cow head on. Rufina, for that was the cow’s name, dies.

Demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Havana following the death of Rufina

“At 0154 on 22 June 1960, GRAB I roared up over Florida’s Cape Canaveral and southward over Cuba while riding piggyback on the Navy’s third Transit satellite, inside the nosecone of an Air Force rocket. As history’s first operational “double-header” launch gained altitude, the rocket’s first and second stages separated. Moments later, the halves of the bulbous fiberglass nosecone fell away and a spring mechanism projected the two satellites into separate orbits. GRAB I’s polar orbit carried it about 480 miles above the Soviet Union, passing it through the invisible beams of hundreds of active radar systems set up to track aircraft and missiles.

The GRAB II launch was destined to be the program’s most sensational. In November 1960, at a time of more modest Pentagon budgeting, NRL personnel drove from Washington to Florida with technical components for the GRAB II launch loaded in the trunks of their own cars. Flying had been ruled out because of the rash of skyjackings to Cuba during that period. The 14-man team under Votaw moved into a hangar on delta-shaped Cape Canaveral’s west side to set up a temporary ground station and prepare the satellite for launch. The Air Force booster (first stage Thor No. 283 and second stage Able-Star 006) was erected nearly three miles away at launch pad 17B.

White-hot flames burst in a shrieking roar from the bottom of the 80-foot rocket. Tons of cooling water spraying into the flame deflector at the base of the concrete launch pad turned to clouds of steam. Then, with an earth-shaking crackling rumble, the 50-ton booster’s 150,000 pounds of thrust overcame its weight and sent the missile ever faster into the cloudless sky. Clear of the launch site, the white Thor Able-Star gracefully rolled and pitched toward its azimuth of 146 degrees to carry it out over the Atlantic along the Florida coast, past Miami Beach and over eastern Cuba. The Thor engine was programmed to burn for about 163 seconds before cutting off nearly 60 miles from Cape Canaveral at an altitude of more than 40 miles. Instead, it died prematurely, affecting speed and trajectory. Explosive bolts automatically separated the two rocket stages. As the unpowered Thor passed southeastern Florida and started to arc downward, the Able-Star containing the satellites ignited.

Back at the Cape, the range safety officer (RSO) sat at his console in the Range Control Center following the sequence of events on banks of instruments. His job was to disarm or destroy a rocket he believed threatened life or property. Reacting to the Thor’s premature engine cutoff, he flipped two toggle switches—arm and destruct—on his console to destroy the rocket stages. Radio signals beamed into the ionosphere, and explosive charges detonated inside the rockets. One NRL engineer, who had labored long hours to put his “bird” in space, grumbled that the RSO should have let the Able-Star continue, that it would have made it into orbit.

A shower of varying sized debris resulted, gravity pulling it to earth. Pieces unexpectedly streaked down on Cuba’s Oriente Province, northwest of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay. The Cuban Army post at Holguin reported fragments falling along a 200-square-mile-long swath. According to the post’s report, “two complete sphere, two apparatuses in the form of cones and various cylinders” with English inscriptions were picked up. One item was described as a “sealed sphere of some 40 pounds.”

More fallout was to come. In what somewhat inaccurately became known as “the herd shot around the world,” some of the falling rocket debris apparently splattered on a Cuban farm and killed a cow. “This is a Yankee provocation,” accused Revolucion, an official Cuban publication, insisting that the rocket was deliberately exploded over the country. Government radio stations cited the incident as further proof that the United States was trying to destroy the regime of Cuban President Fidel Castro. One cow was even paraded in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana wearing a placard reading “Eisenhower, you murdered one of my sisters.”

As strange as it may seem, the Cuban strategy had the desired effect. The world became aware of “the dangers” of the space race, the American government awarded the Cubans 2 million dollars compensation, and Rufina, the most expensive cow in history, was seen off with full State honors.  This was the beginning of the conquest of space and governments were the only ones involved in space activity, so they were the only ones responsible for damages and costs if anything did not go as planned. As far back as 1965, the insurance company Lloyd’s assumed the first space risk. Nowadays, with countless multi-million dollar claims, and with private companies and commercial telecommunications providers at the helm, the role of the insurance industry is crucial to facilitating the continuing work of the aerospace industry.”

Source 1: https://www.usni.org/magazines/naval-history-magazine/2008/april/navys-spy-missions-space

Source 2:  https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=13&ved=2ahUKEwjB0LjAx5DnAhXpGDQIHfNjCD8QFjAMegQIARAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mapfreglobalrisks.com%2Frisks%2Fimages%2FSeguros_de_satelites_ENU_tcm1366-435032.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2x_pUnoLMcGOJ5M3uoz0Oj


Some of these workhorse capsules have been recovered and stored in a so-called graveyard of used space objects. An example of such a collection is shown here.   UNKNOWN DATE: PRESSURE SPHERES unkspheresarg Two space spheres on display in the patio of the Firmat Museum in Santa Fe, Argentina.

Source:    http://www.openminds.tv/the-space-balls-a-case-of-mistaken-identity-854/ Credit: Open Minds Production.

UNKNOWN DATE: PRESSURE SPHERE unksphere1arg A pressure vessel on display in the at the UFO Vision Museum in Victoria, Argentina.

Source: http://www.openminds.tv/the-space-balls-a-case-of-mistaken-identity-854/. Credit Open Minds Production.


I received these photos of space junk that had been stored at NORAD at one point in time (Space Control Center). Unfortunately, I do not know their heritage. The bolt and threads above survived intact even though the sphere itself is very scorched and the other side has a large hole in it.


Earlier examples of reentry include Apollo capsules

Manned capsule were recovered during Apollo missions. An examle is shown below. In addition, we observed several Apollo missions on the way to the moon. In this view Apollo 12 Command Module is seen as a small dot illuminated by sunlight on November 14, 1969 at 02hUT from a slant range of 50,000 miles. It is at the apex of the arrow labeled A12. There are 3 other pieces also visible which are so-called SLA (Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter) panels. They were 28 feet high with a diameter ranging from 12 ft. 10in to 21 ft 8in. Sunlight reflected quite well off these panesl which stayed in close proximity to the Command Module for some time. Two SLA panels are seen as dots directly below the second arrow and the third below and to the right of the right-most of those two objects. These are Polaroid images taken off a video monitor. The telescope used was a 16-inch telescope and an intensified video camera was employed. The 3 objects qualify as space debris since they were jettisoned as part of the mission scenario yet followed along in roughly parallel trajectories to the Apollo.

In this view, a water dump is occurring from the Apollo 13 Command Module on April 13, 1970 at 2:14 UT. It is the slightly out of focus object at the apex of the arrow. The water dump itself is an example of space debris. Light is reflecting off the frozen ice crystals.


Many Russian spacecraft were designed to return humans back to earth. This Vostok capsule is an example of one which survived reentry and is now housed in a space museum in Moscow.


The internet has created a market for advertising all sorts of products including recovered pieces of space debris. This appears to be a pressure sphere.

Source: http://www.revolutiondynamics.com/satellite.htm


Lottie Williams (44 years old at the time) was grazed by a lightweight fragment of charred woven material (10 x 13 cm)material that was later identified from the reentry of the MSX Delta rocket (launched April 1996) that reentered the atmosphere in 1997. She was walking laps with friends in a park located at 66th Street North and Lewis Avenue at 330am in Tulsa, Oklahoma on January 22.  At that time they saw what appeared to be a fireball streaking across the sky and breaking up into pieces. Then about 30 minutes later something hit her on the shoulder. It appeared as pieces of metal fabric that melted together.  The reentry itself was seen by many including Tulsa police officers who were involved in a 9-hour standoff at a home in north Tulsa.

Source: TULSA WORLD, Jan 23, 1997  

An impact survivor: Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma was ‘hit’ on the shoulder by a piece of ‘debris’ from the MSX rocket that reentered over Texas.  She was walking very early in the morning before dawn in O’Brien Park when this occurred. (Photo of O’Brien Park taken by this author in 2010)
It should be noted that the Delta II rocket that propelled the MSX into space contained 4 pressurized titanium spheres that survive reentry as a matter of course. While it is not clear that anyone has been killed by space debris, it was reported that a cow died in Cuba after having been hit by a falling object in 1960. An unknown number of rocket motor and propellant tank pieces were reported to have fallen in Cuba in November 1960 and these are thought to be sub-orbital debris from failure of a Thor booster used to launch the Transit-IIIA satellite on November 30, 1960 (satellite 1960-F16).This was the second launch attempt of the Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) satellite declassified in 1998. Neither the cow nor its owners were available for interviews. The principal source of the cow story is from a speech delivered by CIA director G.J.Tenet Sept 27, 2000 in which he stated “One of (the) more spectacular failures rained debris down on Cuba. Havana charged that a cow was killed in a deliberate US action. The Cubans soon paraded another cow through the streets with a placard reading ‘Eisenhower, you murdered one of my sisters’. It was the first and last time that a satellite has been used in the production of ground beef. The episode has gone down in history as the herd shot round the world.”

Another report indicated Nov. 7, 2002 that a boy was hit by space debris in China. “Debris from a space satellite that fell from its orbit struck a six-year-old boy in Shaanxi Province last week, according to a report in the Beijing Youth Daily. Wu Fusheng, the father of the boy named Wu Jie, remembers hearing a “thundering” sound and saw a piece of metal plummet from the sky, finally hitting a persimmon tree under which his son was playing with other children. The boy was taken to hospital where doctors found he had suffered a fractured toe and a swelling on his forehead. The satellite debris was a block of aluminum, 80 centimetres by 50 centimetres and weighing 10 kilograms. The freak accident also hit the Wu family’s finances. They had to borrow 400 yuan (US$48) from a neighbour to pay for the medical treatment. After the remains of the satellite had crashed to earth, the village head noticed that the air had a smoky, gunpowdery smell and thought a plane had crashed nearby. He requested that the village be evacuated. Later, after a total of 19 metal fragments had been recovered, it was found that the debris was the outermost shell of the Resource Second Satellite which had broken up after falling from orbit. Local police and authorities have made a list of all the debris and are waiting for more expert investigation. The satellite was supposed to have crashed into an uninhabited mountain area in Shanyang County but had landed instead in nearby Yanghe village. The mishap was blamed on unexpected weather conditions. The government will pick up the cost of Wu Jie’s medical treatment and also pay some compensation to his family.” (Star News)


Space debris comes in many forms. One of the most exciting is when a satellite or rocket explodes unexpectedly. We have watched the aftermath of some of these events. An early sighting of mine was of Cosmos 1823. On December 29, 1987 at 1113 UT, we watched six fragments pass through the field of our binoculars one after the other separated by 53, 7, 5, 83, and 18 seconds, respectively. While the intact satellite had been observed at magnitude +5, the pieces that we observed from an explosion that had occurred earlier varied in brightness from +9 and +10.5 magnitude.

A group of fragments from an apparent low velocity breakup in February 2007.
Usually, the sizes of the resultant post-explosion fragments are quite small–less than 0.1 square meters. If the satellite is in low earth orbit (perhaps at altitudes less than 500km , it is possible that some fragments can be viewed in amateur telescopes. If the exploding object is located in an eccentric orbit (one with a low perigee and high apogee), unless you are really lucky, it is not likely you will be able to spot these fragments. Why should we try to view the end products of explosions? A simple answer might be the following: if the cause of an explosion is not known (usually the case), one may be able to gather information on the rotation and brightness of resultant fragments and correlate the brightness with radar cross section. In certain instances, the exploding object may not be destroyed. This is not an altogether unusual situation. Some objects suffer minor explosions and their radar cross section is largely unaffected. Optical observation bears this out. An explosion in space is not a desirable outcome since the new fragments become possible sources of impact to working satellites. Even a small fragment moving at orbital velocity is enough to seriously damage or destroy a large spacecraft. Many fragments created as a result of explosions tend to have small cross sectional area and may decay from orbit quickly. During periods of high solar activity when atmospheric decay is accelerated, a temporal ‘cleansing’ of small pieces of space debris will occur.


In the 1960s and early 70s there were several finds of space debris in Australia. A report on the Bellata spheres from the Weapons Research Establishment (which is part of the documentation provided to the museum by the donor, Dobikin stud manager Mr. J. T. Vickery), lists seven ‘space objects’ that had been found and reported between 1963 and 1973. When the first ‘space ball’ was found on Boullia Station in far western NSW in 1963, media speculation as to its origins ranged from evidence for an advanced ancient lost civilisation in Australia, to debris from a damaged UFO and “Boullia Ball” became a nickname for this type of spherical object found in Australia and New Zealand (some were found across the Tasman in 1972). However, investigations of the Boullia Ball and later space debris finds by the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE), Australia’s defence science agency and forerunner of today’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), demonstrated that they were of definite terrestrial origin, mostly from US launch vehicles. The first two “Bellata Balls” were sent to the WRE for examination and it was established, on the basis of the type of weld used in their construction, and lettering on one ball in the Cyrillic alphabet, that the pressure vessels had originated in the USSR. In the Cold War environment of the time, the Embassy of the USSR in Canberra declined the WRE’s invitation to inspect the balls and confirm their origin, but there is little doubt about the identification. After examination, the WRE forwarded the two balls to the museum in 1973, in accord with Dobikin manager Mr. Vickery’s wish to donate them to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The third ball discovered remained in Mr. Vickery’s possession. The two Bellata balls donated to the museum are made of a titanium/vanadium/aluminium alloy, a relatively light but strong metal. The sphere on display  in the Space exhibition is the most complete of the two, although it was partially melted away and shows a jagged rim slagged with congealed metal. The body and interior of the ball are spattered with other blobs of metal slag, but it is otherwise reasonably intact. The other sphere was burned through in two places, so the WRE decided to cut it into pieces for examination and analysis: only a segment of the original now remains, stenciled with lab markings.

Source: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/blog/index.php/tag/space-debris/


In compliance with article 5 of the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, Member States provide reports of space debris discovered within their territories.  This list is located at: http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/natact/sdnps/unlfd.html


For earth dwellers, being hit by a piece of reentering space debris is a highly unlikely event. But there are more to interest space buffs than just the extraordinary events involved in surviving a reentry. While it is true that thousands of satellites and rockets have reentered the atmosphere and only a relative few have been found intact or in pieces, the effects of space debris can have an impact on ground based astronomical observations. This first came to light around 1985 when a group of astronomers reported flashes in the sky which later became known as the ‘Aries Flasher’, ‘Perseus Flasher’, or ‘the Ogre’. The flashes were documented in ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL Vol. 307, L33-37, 1986 August 1 by Katz et al. in an article titled “Optical Flashes in Perseus”. In this paper, the investigators reported eliminating what could not have caused the flashes. One source they discounted was artificial earth satellites. This conclusion was the catalyst that began my investigation into the Aries flasher phenomenon. After the announcement of the Aries Flasher, numerous search teams tried in vain to locate the source of these mysterious flashes. Some results included:

1. “A Search for Optical Flashes in Perseus” by P.Garnavich and S. Temple University of Washington, Jan. 1987.

2.”Search for X Rays from the Region of the Aries-Perseus Flasher” by W.Lewin et al. from MIT, 1987.

3.”Status of the Perseus Optical Flasher”, by G.Corso et al. Loyola University, 1987.

4.”Evidence from Meteor Patrol Photos for a nonastronomical Origin of the Reported Optical Flashes in Perseus.” by I.Halliday et al. NRC of Canada. …and there were many more to come.

After seeing a photo of the Aries flasher published in SKY AND TELESCOPE magazine, it occurred to me that this flash looked remarkably like others I had seen as an undergraduate student in analyzing photographic plates taken of flashes from the GEOS 1 satellite. If this was indeed a flash of reflected sunlight, then perhaps the orbits of all satellites in space could be analyzed to see if a spacecraft or debris passed through the field of view of the photo at the precise time and location of the published photo. Though obtaining the exact location of the observation site of the Aries flasher report(s) was difficult, it was eventually determined with enough certainty to analyze the circumstances that possible satellite passages might have had. Using special software developed by the space debris office at the Johnson Space Center, I determined that at 0242UT on March 19, 1985, three satellites passed through the area that could have been source of the flash. Two of them, TOPO I and 1961 Omicron 151 were dismissed as unlikely sources due to their size and distance at the time of the flash. I attempted optical observations of both and eliminated them based on what I saw. The third object was Cosmos 1400. I conducted observations of this satellite which showed brief flashes sometimes reaching +2 magnitude. After more study, I concluded that this satellite was the source of the Aries Flasher event on that date.

The Aries flasher photograph was considered the prime target for analysis. However, the Katz group also documented other flashes in the general part of the sky which caused the phenomenon to be called the Aries Flasher, then Perseus Flasher due to the lack of certainty in the position of the flash source(s). After examining some of the other reported flashes, I was able to correlate some of them with other coincident passages of some other satellites. This was the first time that a direct link was found between space debris and suspected new astronomical discoveries. The results were accepted for publication in ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL Vol. 317, L39 1987 as “Specular Satellite Reflection and the 1985 March 19 Optical Outburst in Perseus”. Additional work done by Brad Schaefer, myself and others was published later that contradicted many other flash events that appeared in the original Aries Flasher paper. See “The Perseus Flasher and Satellite Glints”, ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL Vol. 320, pp.398-404, 1987 Sept. 1.

For additional references to this topic:

1) SKY AND TELESCOPE, July 1985, p.54.

2) SKY AND TELESCOPE, June 1987, p.694.

A second high profile flash event was reported in ICARUS Vol. 76, pp. 525-532 in 1988 by Kolovos et al. titled “Photographic Evidence of a Short Duration Flash from the Surface of the Moon”. In this story, a photo was taken of a low phase moon in which a bright flash is seen superimposed over the dark side of the lunar disk. The investigators claimed that the origin of the flash was a lunar transient phenomenon with an origin below the moon’s surface. The appearance of this flash is very similar to that of the Aries flasher and I attempted to determine if this, too, might be associated with satellite glints. I found an even more convincing candidate for this flash, the satellite called DMSP F3. Its passage correlated almost exactly over the moon at the precise time. What was even more remarkable, after beginning a campaign to study the optical nature of this satellite, I observed distinct specular short-lived flashes that reached magnitude -4. I was able to photograph one of them. Its appearance was uniquely similar to that on the ICARUS photo. The results were published as “Space Debris and A Flash on the Moon”, ICARUS, vol. 90, pp.326-327, 1991. For more references on this topic: 1) SKY AND TELESCOPE, May 1989, p.468. 2) SKY AND TELESCOPE, June 1990, p.590. Both the Aries Flasher and Moon Flash were apparently caused by sunlight reflecting off a metallic surface of an inactive satellite. Because there is no effective removal process of dead spacecraft from orbit, they continue to swirl about the earth until the natural forces of orbital decay bring them to a fiery end in the earth’s atmosphere. As a result of these two events, I received a host of inquiries trying to link other flashes in the sky seen over the prior decades with satellite flashes. Most could not be correlated either due to incomplete information or lack of coincident satellite orbits. It should not be concluded that all flashes seen in the night sky come from space debris. But it is important to recognize that satellites can be the sources of some false astronomical discoveries. The papers increased awareness as did some follow-on popular published articles which helped to mitigate the spread of subsequent reports.

LINKS A historical record of space debris falls is kept by the Aerospace Corporation on their site Space Debris Fall List