Piece of suspected space debris found in rural North Carolina

Piece of suspected space debris found in rural North Carolina

CLYDE, N.C. – Space experts believe a piece of debris recently found in rural western North Carolina could be from a recent SpaceX mission that launched a crew of four to the International Space Station.

The debris was recently spotted by an employee of The Glamping Collective, a company that operates cabins and other facilities on a private mountaintop about 20 minutes west of Asheville, North Carolina.

The debris appears to be at least 3 feet wide and is clearly singed, likely from its travels through Earth’s atmosphere.

Spacecraft have a thermal protection system due to the immense heat they generate when reentering Earth’s atmosphere, but the trunk portion of the mission is designed to disintegrate upon reentry.

Piece of suspected space debris found in rural North Carolina
Piece of suspected space debris found in rural North Carolina

A Dragon spacecraft consists of two pieces: a capsule and a trunk – but only the capsule, which contains the astronauts, is reused for future endeavors.

SpaceX defines the trunk as the section that "not only carries unpressurized cargo but also supports the spacecraft during ascent. One half of the trunk is covered in solar panels that provide power to Dragon during flight and while on-station. The trunk remains attached to Dragon until shortly before reentry into Earth’s atmosphere."

The space company says the trunk has a volume of about 1,300 cubic feet, most of which burns up during its reentry after a mission.


SpaceX rendering of a Dragon trunk
SpaceX rendering of a Dragon trunk

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and astrophysicist at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, closely monitors space debris and warned on May 21 that the Dragon trunk from the Crew-7 mission was making its return to Earth about two months after its astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico.

McDowell said an area from Tennessee through Virginia and West Virginia had the highest potential for debris to fall, and a spotting of debris from North Carolina certainly is consistent with expectations.

"This definitely looks consistent with being a bit of the Crew-7 Dragon's trunk which reentered on a path right over this location on Tuesday," McDowell posted on X Friday. 

No one was reported to be injured in what very well could be the latest encounter with space debris, but it certainly serves as a reminder that not all disposable pieces of a mission burn up during their fall.

Earlier this year, a piece of hardware from the International Space Station crashed through the roof of a Florida home.

NASA reported astronauts released a battery pack from the ISS into space during an upgrade in March 2021.

The batteries eventually fell back to Earth and ended up in the Naples-area home on March 8, 2024.

At the time, the space agency said, "NASA remains committed to responsibly operating in low Earth orbit, and mitigating as much risk as possible to protect people on Earth when space hardware must be released."


Similar debris from a spacecraft’s trunk region has been spotted previously in Australia and Canada, but no one has been reported to have been injured by the material.

FOX Weather reached out to both NASA and SpaceX about the latest discovery but because of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, any type of response was not immediately available.

Original article source: Piece of suspected space debris found in rural North Carolina