Friday, November 25, 2016

A map of all the space junk that has re-entered over Australia

Today someone wrote to me to ask for help in identifying a piece of space junk which had been found in Queensland some years ago. Dr Space Junk is always happy to help, so I sent off a brief explanation.

This made me think, though, of how interesting it would be to map the location of all known re-entry events. There'd be a whole bunch of Skylab in Western Australia, some material from the Europa launches from Woomera in the 1960s in the Northern Territory and Queensland, and many pressure vessels used in rocket fuel systems - globally, these are the most common component to survive re-entry as they're usually made from titanium, stainless steel and/or carbon-carbon. Because of Australia's location, many rocket bodies fall back to Earth over our landmass. We're well situated for observing and tracking the LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit) phase of launch so it makes sense that the second and third stages are likely to re-enter in our vicinity.

You could compare the distribution of this junk with the meteorite entries being mapped by the Western Australian Fireballs in the Sky project, which asks citizen observers to send in data whenever they see some flaming object heading towards Earth. And of course there's also the tektite strewn fields.

I might just expand it to include anything that falls from the sky, as it's likely there's stuff that my Friday-arvo brain has forgotten about at the moment. The more I think about it, the more I think this could be an extremely interesting map to create and I wonder why I've not thought of it before. Such a deliciously simple idea that could lead to - well I don't really know just yet, but it's sure to be something!

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