NASA confirms Florida house hit by a piece of ISS battery pack

Who needs aircon when you have NASA to punch holes through your home?

NASA has confirmed that a piece of space junk that crashed through a Florida home in March was a fragment of a discarded ISS battery pallet.

The pallet was jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS) on January 11, 2021. On March 8, 2024, it made an uncontrolled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. The hope was that most – if not all – of the debris would burn up during the re-entry, although at the time Astronomer Jonathan McDowell noted that approximately half a ton of fragments was likely to reach the Earth's surface.

McDowell was correct. Fragments did make it to the surface, and – worse – one piece, weighing in at 1.6 pounds (736 grams), crashed through the house of Alejandro Otero in Naples, Florida. According to Otero, the fragment "tore through the roof and went thru 2 floors."

NASA representatives duly visited Otero's house and collected the fragment for analysis.

The US space agency has now confirmed that the fragment was indeed part of the cargo pallet – in this case, a stanchion used to mount the batteries. The object is made of the nickel-chromium-based superalloy Inconel, noted for its resistance to temperature and extreme environments. It measures four inches (10.16 cm) in height and 1.6 inches (4cm) in diameter, or slightly smaller than one of those tiny 6.7oz/ 200 ml soda cans so beloved by airlines.

However, at 1.6 pounds (736 grams), it is a good deal heavier and could easily have caused more serious damage than adding some unwanted ventilation to Otero's home. He noted that it almost hit his son during its passage through the house.

NASA said it would be updating the models it uses to predict how objects break up during re-entry and that the ISS team would investigate the jettison of the cargo pallet to better understand the cause of the debris's survival.

The incident is a reminder of all the hardware, much of which can be classed as debris, which is passing overhead. While space agencies including NASA and ESA have made efforts in recent years to ensure the re-entry of debris occurs in a controlled manner, others are not quite so careful. A spent booster from a Chinese Long March 5B, weighing in at around 20 metric tons, came down in uncontrolled fashion in 2021. ®

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