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De-orbiting debris from ISS hits a house in Florida

It appears that a 2-pound piece of a de-orbiting “cargo pallet” from ISS bored through the roof of a house in Florida on March 8, 2024 and broke through two floors.

A Nest home security camera captured the sound of the crash at 2:34 pm local time (19:34 UTC) on March 8. That’s an important piece of information because it is a close match for the time—2:29 pm EST (19:29 UTC)—that US Space Command recorded the reentry of a piece of space debris from the space station. At that time, the object was on a path over the Gulf of Mexico, heading toward southwest Florida.

This space junk consisted of depleted batteries from the ISS, attached to a cargo pallet that was originally supposed to come back to Earth in a controlled manner. But a series of delays meant this cargo pallet missed its ride back to Earth, so NASA jettisoned the batteries from the space station in 2021 to head for an unguided reentry.

NASA had taken possession of the piece to determine for certain if it is from ISS. Who is liable for the damages could become a legal tangle. The depleted batteries were owned by NASA, but were brought to ISS on a Japanese HTV cargo freighter. According to the Outer Space Treaty, the nation that launches an item is liable for any damages it causes when it crashes back on Earth. The language however doesn’t really cover a case where one nation builds the item for launch, and another nation launches it.

The owner, Alejandro Otero, had to use Twitter to get a response from NASA. According to his tweet, he had called and emailed the agency and had been ignored. Only after other news sources picked up the story did NASA respond. Furthermore, when NASA jettisoned the pallet from ISS it had insisted that the discarded batteries would burn up entirely in the atmosphere, even though other experts said differently.

The Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center, says a “general rule of thumb” is that 20 to 40 percent of the mass of a large object will reach the ground. The exact percentage depends on the design of the object, but these nickel-hydrogen batteries were made of metals with relatively high density. Ahead of the reentry, the European Space Agency also acknowledged some fragments from the battery pallet may survive to the ground.

What this information tells us is that NASA knew this discarded pallet posed a risk, but made believe it didn’t.

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  • David Ross

    Any reasonable court or arbitration-committee must interpret this Treaty to refer to the last launcher, and that would be the good ol’ US of A. Imagine even trying to pin this on Japan. They’ll be able to hear the laughter from Saturn.
    And NASA know it, which is why they attempted to blow Otero off. They hoped all this would go away.

  • David Eastman

    Never attribute to malice that which is easily explained by stupidity or incompetence. Most likely his attempts to contact NASA were only reaching low level public relations functionaries that didn’t take him seriously, and it never reached anyone high enough to actually consider whether this was an actual space debris incident until the news started reporting on it.

  • Andi

    Wow, who does NASA think they are, China?

  • Andi: That’s exactly what NASA is, exactly like China. It is a government operation that thinks it is a power unto itself. Under that mental framework, things like this can happen all the time, and do.

  • Jhon B

    With the billions NASA, blows, why [deleted] don’t they just cut a check and let this guy get on with his life.
    And while there at it, they best make sure this does not happen again.

  • Jhon B: I have deleted the obvious obscenity from your comment. Leaving out a few letters doesn’t cut it, when it is very clear the curse you want to express.

    Why do people constantly wish to debase themselves in this way? Or do you wish to join the mass of stupidity that is taking us down to a new dark age?

    I demand civilized adult behavior here. Do it again and I will suspend you for a week.

  • pzatchok

    The best way would be for all ISS participants give according to their investment in the station.

    Granted Russia will never pay and anyone other than GB or Japan is a big question also,

    So just let NASA or our state department pay for it and be done with it.

  • mkent

    Under the Outer Space Treaty, the responsibility for damages caused by space debris lies with the nation that launched it. Remember that the treaty was conceived during the 1960s when the two superpowers were so far and away beyond even the other industrial powers in space capability that other countries hardly entered into it. The type of international cooperation represented by the ISS was at best an afterthought and private or commercial space not a thought at all.

    So from a technical standpoint, to determine liability for the damage it must be determined what debris caused the damage. If it was the battery carrier launched by Japan, then Japan is technically responsible for the damage. But if it was the batteries on the carrier that caused the damage, then it is America who is responsible.

    When launched, the cargo carrier launched by Japan contained American replacement batteries for the American truss segment on the ISS. Those batteries are now on the station. The batteries that re-entered are the old batteries originally launched on the truss segment by the Space Shuttle. Thus America is the responsible launching nation for them.

    Having said that, as an American taxpayer, I’m OK with NASA assuming responsibility for the damage caused by the debris regardless whether the damage was caused by the batteries or the carrier. They were American batteries on an American carrier that was only launched by Japan as part of a capabilities swap in the ISS agreement. It was NASA, not Japan, that threw the carrier overboard for an uncontrolled re-entry. It seems to me that if someone has to pay for our own bad decision, it should be us.

  • Steve Richter

    The media ( and democrat party ) would have a field day if space junk that was attributed to SpaceX crashed through someone’s roof.

  • John

    I may have 99 problems but space junk crashing through my house isn’t one of them.

  • Jeff Wright

    The most dangerous bits of space junk were Columbia’s powerheads that hit at Mach 2:

    Another reason I liked Buran.

    Don’t know about Starship Raptor powerheads—lighter but more of them.

  • Edward

    Jeff Wright,
    You wrote: “Another reason I liked Buran.

    You were expecting Buran to break up during reentry?

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