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International Space Station Trash May Have Hit This Florida House

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International Space Station Trash May Have Hit This Florida House

A few weeks ago, something fell from the sky through the roof of Alejandro Otero’s house, and NASA is on the case.

In all likelihood, this nearly 2-pound object came from the International Space Station. Otero said it tore through the roof and both floors of his two-story home in Naples, Florida.

Otero was not home at the time, but his son was there. A Nest security camera captured the sound of the crash on March 8 at 2:34 PM local time (19:34 UTC). That’s an important piece of information because it corresponds well with the time: 2:29 PM EST (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 path over the Gulf of Mexico toward southwest Florida.

This space junk consisted of spent batteries from the ISS, attached to a cargo pallet that was originally supposed to return to Earth in a controlled manner. But a series of delays caused this cargo pallet to miss the ride back to Earth, so NASA jettisoned the space station’s batteries in 2021 to head for an unguided return.

Otero’s likely encounter with space debris was first reported by WINK News, the CBS affiliate for southwest Florida. NASA has since recovered the homeowner’s debris, said Josh Finch, an agency spokesman.

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

Ars reported on this return when it happened on March 8, noting that most of the battery and freighter material would likely have burned up as they flew through the atmosphere. The temperature would have reached several thousand degrees, causing most of the material to evaporate before it could reach the ground.

The entire pallet, including the nine disused batteries of the space station’s power system, had a mass of more than 2.6 tons (5,800 pounds), according to NASA. Size-wise, it was about twice the size of a standard kitchen refrigerator. It is important to note that objects of this mass, or larger, regularly fall to Earth on guided trajectories, but they are usually failed satellites or spent rocket stages that remain in orbit after completing their missions.

In a message on XOtero said he is awaiting communication from “the responsible authorities” to resolve the costs of the damage to his home.

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

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

This could be a problem in this case. The batteries were owned by NASA, but were attached to a pallet structure launched by the Japanese Space Agency.

How this happened

At the time of the March 8 reentry, a NASA spokesperson at the Johnson Space Center in Houston said the space agency “conducted a thorough debris analysis on the pallet and determined that it will harmlessly re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.” This was by far the most massive object ever jettisoned from the International Space Station. “We do not expect any portion to have survived the reentry,” NASA said.

However, research by other space experts did not agree with NASA’s statement. The Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center, says a “general rule of thumb” is that 20 to 40 percent of a large object’s mass will reach the ground. The exact percentage depends on the design of the object, but these nickel-hydrogen batteries were made of relatively high-density metals.

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