April 14, 2024

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Garbage from the International Space Station may have hit a home in Florida

Garbage from the International Space Station may have hit a home in Florida
Zoom in / This cylindrical object, a few inches in size, fell through the roof of Alejandro Otero's home in Florida last month.

A few weeks ago, something from the sky crashed into the roof of Alejandro Otero's house, and NASA is taking over the case.

In all likelihood, this roughly two-pound object came from the International Space Station. Otero said the quake tore off the roof and floors of his two-story home in Naples, Florida.

Otero was not home at the time, but his son was. A Nest home security camera captured the sound of the collision at 2:34 PM local time (19:34 UTC) on March 8. This is important information because it exactly matches the time — 2:29 PM EDT (19:29 UTC) — that US Space Command recorded the return of a piece of space debris from the space station. At the time, the object was on a track over the Gulf of Mexico, heading toward southwest Florida.

This space junk consists of spent batteries from the International Space Station, attached to a charging pad that was originally intended to return to Earth in a controlled manner. But a series of delays led to this cargo platform failing to return to Earth, so NASA abandoned the batteries from the space station in 2021 for an unguided reentry.

It was Otero's possible encounter with space debris It was first reported by WINK News, the CBS affiliate in Southwest Florida. NASA has since recovered the wreckage from the homeowner, according to Josh Finch, an agency spokesman.

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Engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center will analyze the object “as soon as possible to determine its origin,” Finch told Ars. “More information will be available once the analysis is complete.”

Ars reported this reentry when it occurred on March 8, noting that most of the material from the batteries and cargo carrier likely burned up as it fell into the atmosphere. Temperatures can reach several thousand degrees, causing most materials to evaporate before they reach the ground.

The mass of the entire platform, including the nine discarded batteries from the space station's power system, is more than 2.6 metric tons (5,800 pounds), according to NASA. In terms of size, it was twice the length of a standard kitchen refrigerator. It is important to note that objects of this mass, or larger, regularly fall to Earth in directed paths, but they are usually failed satellites or spent rocket stages left in orbit after completing their missions.

In a post on XOtero said he is awaiting communications from “responsible authorities” to resolve the cost of the damage to his home.

If the object is owned by NASA, Otero or his insurance company could file a claim against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, according to Michelle Hanlon, executive director of the University of Mississippi's Air and Space Law Center.

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“It becomes even more interesting if it is discovered that this material is not originally from the United States,” she told Ars. “If it were a man-made space object launched into space by another country and it caused damage to Earth, that country would be fully liable to the homeowner for the damage caused.”

This may be a problem in this case. The batteries were owned by NASA, but were attached to a pallet chassis launched by the Japanese space agency.