ISS Space Junk Re-Entered Without Incident, 550km South of Australia (Updated)

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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The Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS), the largest chunk of debris ever jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS) had a fight with Earth’s atmosphere, and lost. Reports by amateur astronomers on November 2nd suggested that the speeding EAS had probably re-entered, as its expected orbital pass was not observed. Now calculations by US Space Command suggest any surviving EAS debris dropped into the Indian Ocean Pacific Ocean, 550km south of Tasmania, where any sightings of the resulting fireball would be unlikely…

The double-refrigerator-sized EAS was dropped from the ISS on July 23rd, 2007 to begin its long spiral journey toward the Earth’s atmosphere. At the time, NASA calculated that the EAS would take approximately 300 days to reach the planet below, but its degrading orbit took a little longer than expected. Eventually NASA was able to say for sure that the re-entry window would occur some time on Sunday (Nov. 2nd), 15 months after it was detached from the station. The operation to remove the defunct 1400 lb (635 kg) piece of equipment included a spacewalk lasted for nearly eight hours.

Although it might seem like a precarious decision by NASA to allow an uncontrolled re-entry of an object as big as the EAS — especially as it was predicted that up to 15 pieces, some as big as 17.5 kg (40 lb), may survive re-entry, hitting the ground at 100 mph — but the problems associated with keeping the ammonia-filled EAS on board the station were far more acute. After all, 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, and the likelihood of debris impacting populated regions was very small. Even so, NASA warned, “If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn’t get too close to it.”

The first news to come to light about the EAS demise came from an amateur astronomer in Horizon City, Texas, who was using a low-light camera to try to capture the November 2nd flyby. “But the EAS did not appear,” said Thomas Dorman on Sunday. “I think it is safe to assume EAS has reentered.”

Today, it would appear a better idea of the EAS re-entry location has been calculated. The EAS re-entered over the Indian Ocean South Pacific Ocean, south of Tasmania at nearly 5am GMT:

US Space Command reports that the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) probably reentered Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 3rd at 04:51:00 GMT +/- 1 minute over the following coordinates: 48° S, 151° E. That would place the fireball over the Indian Ocean [Pacific Ocean] south of Tasmania where sightings are unlikely.SpaceWeather.com

More information about the EAS final orbital trajectory can be found on the real-time satellite tracking website.

If any pieces of the EAS survived re-entry, it looks as if they fell into the Indian Ocean South Pacific Ocean without incident, and (so far) without any eye-witnesses…

Update (Nov. 4th):

Google Earth view of the EAS re-entry co-ordinates (Google/Ian O'Neill)

Google Earth view of the EAS re-entry co-ordinates (Google/Ian O'Neill)

On following up a reader’s comment on the EAS re-entry, I decided to do some research myself. With reference to the Google Earth snapshot above, it would appear the EAS debris fireball occurred pretty close (approximately 550 km) to the southern-most state of Australia, Tasmania.

Also, according to the original news release, the SpaceWeather.com source quoted the re-entry co-ordinates as 48° S, 151° E. The Indian Ocean is delineated from the Pacific Ocean along the 147° east meridian (i.e. 147° longitude). Therefore, at 151° E quoted as the longitudinal co-ordinate of re-entry is clearly in the South Pacific Ocean and not the Indian Ocean. Corrections to the original article have been made above.

Source: SpaceWeather.com


22 Responses

  1. Maxwell says:

    …Well I guess that lump of blue ice on my roof wasn’t it then.
    Just as well, it was starting to make my fridge smell bad.

  2. Ian O'Neill says:

    @AndJames:-

    Thanks for your response to this article. I’m not totally clear about NASA policy as far as dropping debris from the station is concerned, but they certainly were not aiming for Australia. Judging by the orbital path, pretty much every continent (except Antarctica – funnily enough the most sparsely populated place on the planet!) had an equal chance of getting hit.

    Up until Saturday, the predictions hadn’t been refined that much, and the prediction was “it could crash anywhere, most likely the ocean”.

    I do realise the EAS re-entry was pretty damned close to Australia in the end (more so than I realised when quoting the co-ordinates), so I have posted an update above (inc. Google Earth screenshot). Also, you are totally correct, the source was wrong – the EAS would have re-entered/splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean. I have corrected for this.

    Cheers, Ian

  3. AndJames says:

    There are many significant errors in this article, but the following is the worst…

    The article says (as do many other sources) that :- “Now calculations by US Space Command suggest any surviving EAS debris dropped into the Indian Ocean, south of Tasmania.”

    Firstly Tasmania is not actually not a country, but is actually a main State of Australia, whose given co-ordinates are in Australian Territorial waters. It is also not in the Indian Ocean where the splashdown occurred but is in the Southern Ocean (although the re-entry might have been likely over Indian Ocean.

    Secondly, the pure arrogance of NASA saying that; “Even so, NASA warned, “If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn’t get too close to it.” Where was the warning for Australian citizens? Who gave a toss that it might have cause problems here in Australia?

    Another report says a NASA spokesman – the “Space Station Program Manager”, Mr. Mike Suffredini, reportedly said; “What debris may have been still together after re-entry, it fell into the ocean between Australia and New Zealand,” (If so, this would have been in the Tasman Sea, or if south of Tasmania, actually the Southern Ocean.)

    Also Mr. Suffredini said during a NASA briefing today. “I know a lot of folks were wondering what the end result of that was.” I.e, It wasn’t in U.S. territory, so who gives a damn. So if NASA sources were so concerned in getting too close to the debris if it fell on the ground, then why did Mr. Sufferedini state at the end of the news conference on the matter that; “I just like it when they’ve re-entered and it’s not a problem.”

    Clearly the message is if it were on U.S. territory our response would be different!

    Even the nonchalant and casual statement by the given “real-time satellite tracking website”, says this “was thrown overboard from the International Space Station on July 23” shows the contempt for those beyond U.S. soil.

    Really please to see the long-time brazen uncaring attitudes towards non-U.S. citizens continues to be so care-free. If there was even a remote chance of contamination from the debris, it should have been appropriately notified through official governmental channels. If you want to toss unwanted junk at other countries air space and territory, then I suggest you both clean it up and give some genuine support to all the non-U.S. Citizens of the world !! Else DUMP IT IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD !!!

    NOTE: I think your disrespectful U.S. Space Surveillance Network and N.A.S.A really needs a rocket up them – and perhaps some good training into international diplomacy mixed with perhaps some humility and moral support.

  4. AndJames says:

    Just an additional comment for response I’ve written above. According to the U.S.A. Today website (reported as though the Associated Press) at
    Space junk falls harmlessly in South Pacific (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2008-11-03-space-junk_N.htm), said;

    “A refrigerator-sized piece of space junk fell harmlessly into the South Pacific Sunday night, according to NASA.”

    What is this? Pick an southern hemisphere ocean?

    Worse the same report says that;

    “The junk was a tank full of ammonia coolant on the international space station that was no longer needed. Astronaut Clayton Anderson threw it overboard during a spacewalk in July 2007.”

    Great! At least now the Australian Government knows who they should sue!!

  5. AndJames says:

    Ian,
    The main “Southern Ocean” and territory dispute I have refer to has not been referenced by me. For the sake of clarity (and not some just to stir some general beat-up);

    The Australian submission to the U.N. in 2004 was in our
    Continental Shelf Submission of Australia

    Source of the U.S. reaction/ complaint within the U.N. against of the Southern Ocean region was in December 2004

    The dispute of this region still rests in the hands of the diplomats, and is a very sensitive issue in this part of the southern hemisphere.

    Also interesting is that the co-ordinates also just happen to be near Macquarie Island (an Australian territory). [The map co-ordinates happen to be on the corner of the submission map (pg.27) of the original territorial claims by Australia mentioned above.] – being exactly halfway between Australia and Macquarie Island. It amazingly just happen to be exactly in the region known as Macquarie Ridge and the Cascade Plateau Zone.
    This particular important marine region was wanted to be claimed for protection by Australia (and New Zealand) by the long-lived fish known as the Orange or Red Roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), which has been over fished by other foreign nations exploiting the gap between Australia, New Zealand and Macquarie Island. Serious depletion has threatened this marine species, whose complete recovery is currently estimated as 40-45 years. They only breed after they are ten years old.
    The issue in Australia and New Zealand has produced the “Orange Roughy Conservative Programme”. Apparently this was once a common fish species in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, and is now in the these regions almost extinct.
    Note: I hope that the remains of the ammonia in the satellite dumped in the ocean had not affect on this species.

    Clearly, this shows the consequences of satellite and material being dumped from space into the oceans. Perhaps this is trivial, but it does highlight the consequences of action from other seemingly unrelated parts of the world.

  6. AndJames says:

    Ian ,
    You said; “Judging by the orbital path, pretty much every continent (except Antarctica – funnily enough the most sparsely populated place on the planet!) had an equal chance of getting hit.”

    Actually this isn’t quite true. The probability is higher in Australia than anywhere else when launched by the U.S. The launch site in the U.S. in diametrically opposite to Australia on the earth. As most satellites are used to monitor and secure U.S. territory in North America, Australia is simply a prime target. This region on Earth is also known euphemistically as “the junkyard”, as most re-entries are aimed to be dumped in the mid south Pacific ocean – mainly as the region is the least populated on the earth. Sadly, the area to get to this region just happens to be over Australia and New Zealand.

    (I also casually note that northern Pacific is avoided, as Hawaii – a U.S. State could actually be possibly hit!)

    My specific complaint is this unit was discarded in space without a though to the consequences of where it would land. Surely, Clayton Anderson was told when to discard this double-refrigerator-sized EAS unit. If it was tossed out, then surely by not targeting a place on Earth for it to be re-entered could be construed as neglect?

    Some alternatives were also possible. I.e. Bring it back on by a returning Space Shuttle. Another was to use a propulsion unit to bring it back to Earth quicker. If you can aim to shuttle so it can land at Cape Canaveral or at White Sands – then surely this can be done with especially “launched” space junk!

    For prime example, Skylab re-entered in July 1979 over Western Australia, while MIR (april 2001) and the Compton Gamma-ray Observatory (June 2000) landed near New Zealand into the mid-South Pacific. (all pretty big objects)

    Clearly more explicit rules are required to protect the region from space junk.

    If you are serious about such fears of threats from space, you I think you should read the report presented to the United Nations First Committee on international security on October 22, 2007.

  7. AndJamesMother says:

    Shaddup already.

    Sorry, those two bumps on his head aren’t horns.

  8. Steve says:

    Who cares. It hit a large body of water south of the country of Australia, nuff said. Im sure the Aussie’s are really going to care if it landed on the far east side of the indian ocean or the west side of the pacific. The fact people are posting essay type responses to a couple territorial miscues with regards to treating Tasmania as an independent nation, or arguing boundaries of an ocean really is a waste of time. Also, if the article is off by a bit who cares. As a reader, we owe it to them to correct major mistakes, but over something like this to lash out at the writer is simply idiotic. Ian, keep up the good work

  9. neil says:

    wow that guy is pissed. everybody knows Americans act like dicks

  10. AndJames says:

    I have not intended to lash out at the writer at all. If anything, Ian has had actually the guts to correct the mistake against both the American agencies and their media sources has been wanton and sillily enough to totally neglect and misrepresented the actual facts.

    Q: Would a U.S. citizen be worried if an object from space fell 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the U.S. coastline? You bet they would! If it were in, say, Nebraska we would never hear then end of it!

    I also thank Ian for actually writing about the topic, as this has prompted me to bring up the issue among the Australian Government. Since writing my responses here, I have already written a suitable letter to my local Parliamentary member, the Foreign Minister and Attorney General of Australia, and the Chief Scientist of Australia.

    As for Steve’s comments, one day, based on the probabilities, there will be a day someone will be killed by space debris left by one country or another, Then who will be blamed? (I.e. If it is not on MY patch of dirt, then who cares, its not my responsibility?) More concerning is one day some radioactive military satellite contaminate whole populated regions of the earth would it matter? Would the U.S. or Russia be responsible enough for a clean up?

    As for the haranguing by the responder who calls him/herself AndJamesMother, I do not appreciate the constant bickering upon nearly every topic I post. (My own mother would be more sympathetic, methinks! Also I have my own conscience ) If you do have a positive point then speak your own mind. If not, then keep it to yourself, please. If you think I’m the devil – well to hell with you! (pun intended, with my tongue in cheek)

    As to Neil’s comments, my point is not specifically to the Americans really, but the whole space launch industry. Australia participate in space exploration, and although a minor player, generally supports the goals, objectives and benefits for space exploration. Naturally there are risks in doing the exploration, but the point is what safeguards are there to protect us from the unfortunate event of a mishap. It seems to me that the NASA and the ancillary bodies are more interested in protecting and advising the American populous than others who may also be at risk from their decisions. The point is, what endeavour was made to protect those possibly in the firing line?

    From what I’ve read, especially not even knowing or expressing much about the eventual area the end of its free-fall mission, does not instil very much confidence in what these particular organisations are actually doing.

  11. neil says:

    andjames-
    you bring up some very good points. we (the world as a whole) need to start being very careful of the junk we toss overboard. we are treating space as we once treated the oceans, an endless garbage dump. that will most definately bite us in the end. as to my comment about americans being dicks, sad but true. i’m an american and i cringe at the way we behave towards the rest of the world

  12. Ian O'Neill says:

    Sorry, you got me at Russell Crowe. Lol. I had no idea he was from New Zealand! Funny though, he probably has hurt more people than have been hit by space debris. Hmmm… I might do an article on that, “Has Crowe Really Injured More People than NASA’s Space Junk?” – might be an interesting statistical analysis….

  13. AndJamesMother says:

    Fact: Russel Crowe has injured more people than space debris. Perhaps you should get upset about this.

  14. meika says:

    As a Tasmania, you might like to know, (like a lot of Southern Hemisphereans), that yes, we call that stretch of water the Southern Ocean, as it is a real ocean, unlike that bay of the Southern Ocean some will call the Indian Ocean. The Southern Ocean is a main weather engine of the world. Recently the name Southern Ocean received some sort of world official nomenclature recognition, but as a sop to Northern Hemisphere types that said it only started at 60 degrees south, so their pretend oceans can go “all the way down” on their northern hemiscentric maps.

    When, in actual fact, the ocean, the Southern Ocean, goes all the way round.

    (click on my website link for a hint of this in a NASA photo)

  15. meika says:

    Russel Crowe is from New Zealand. And we are upset about this.

  16. Mike B says:

    LOL, true that!

    I agree with James but in a sense I can understand the other side of the fence.

    It seems to be the current way of thinking now days that if it’s not me who cares. I would certainly be interested if a major piece of space junk crashed into a city in the U.S, U.K or where ever but if it did not affect me…. “who cares”.

    Interesting to see if humanity can erase this feeling of “them not me” otherwise “us” the human race will surely not be able to survive long enough to even make it to Mars.

  17. AndJamesMother says:

    He was born in New Zealand, but moved when he was young and grew up in Australia; where he still resides.

    The big point is, nobody wants debris to kill anybody, but when somebody spouts off in a rage of lunacy because of some hate agenda they have for NASA, the USA or whatever just looks rediculous because they obviously cannot comprehend the big picture.

    Every item which goes into space (at least from NASA) goes through a series of risk analysis after determining what will/will not survive re-entry.

    While there is no doubt space junk is becoming a problem, it is by far more of a problem for other items in orbit, and for items being launched into orbit. It is probable someday someone will be injured by this, and it is likely they will be compensated by the responsible party, as was the case with SkyLab. Even NASA admits to the problem, and nobody puts more money into tracking orbiting items the the US Strategic Command. So, it isn’t like the United States is just dismissing the problem with contempt for life.

    In no way does the current situation merit the rediculous rampant madness displayed by AndJames. If it did, then there should be no way people should be allowed to drive 1200+ kilos worth of metal and plastic around the world on a daily basis… since many of them who are involved with injuring someone never pay up for damages.

    So spout off at Mr. Crowe, since it is likely he will do more damage to another individual before a piece of space debris does.

  18. AndJames says:

    In response to AndJamesMother…

    1) I have actually never said NASA or any other agency was wanting to deliberately kill or target anyone.

    2) Clearly, the statement that; “Astronaut Clayton Anderson threw it overboard during a spacewalk in July 2007.” and that there was no warning until after the event to citizens in Australia elsewhere) prior to the crash landing.

    3) The American media and the spokesperson for NASA in their statements regarding this event seem to be trivialise the destruction of the EAS unit. This was especially against the knowledge that crash area was unknown, and that in the days before it, the decaying satellite orbit would likely pass over Australia.

    4) NASA actual policy on these issue are available at;
    NASA Orbital Debris Program Office
    They also publish a quarterly newsletter, and useful reading appears in the “Handbook for Limiting Orbital Debris” (NASA-Handbook 8719.14)

    5) The fault here is more the general media and NASA media in their overall reporting. It is not by me just “some hate agenda they have for NASA, the USA or whatever.”

    6) NASA in the site mentioned above, in their FAQ says under item 13, answers the question to; “Is reentering debris a risk to people and property on Earth?

    A significant amount of debris does not survive the severe heating which occurs during reentry. Components which do survive are most likely to fall into the oceans or other bodies of water or onto sparsely populated regions like the Canadian Tundra, the Australian Outback, or Siberia in the Russian Federation. During the past 40 years an average of one cataloged piece of debris fell back to Earth each day. No serious injury or significant property damage caused by reentering debris has been confirmed.”

    Note: They do not say that some won’t suffer serious injury or death. They also say under item 17 on the same site;

    “”Orbital debris poses a risk to continued reliable use of space-based services and operations and to the safety of persons and property in space and on Earth…”

    Reference: Orbital Debris Frequently Asked Questions.

    7) Other countries and the U.N. have differing points of view on the subject (You might also like to read the U.N. “Technical Report on Space Debris” in 1999.

    8) “rediculous” by the way is actually spelt “ridiculous”

  19. AndLarry says:

    To AndJames:

    I believe the International Space Station is, ummm, international. There are 16 countries responsible for it, not just the US.

    Maybe Australia should commit some money and time to the ISS. You could be in charged of “Controlled Garbage Descent”.

    By the way, feel free to drop some space junk on my property. I’ll have it posted on Ebay the next day. :o)

  20. AndJames says:

    Andlarry,

    I said here on November 4th;

    “…my point is not specifically to the Americans really, but the whole space launch industry. Australia participate in space exploration, and although a minor player, generally supports the goals, objectives and benefits for space exploration.”

    The actual owner of the Unit is the U.S., being U.S. satellite orbital designated part 31928/1998-067BA and was discarded by an American citizen. Legally, this is item is American property and that the U.S. is responsible for it. The part was made bb the U.S. and was launched in Russia from Kazakhstan on 20th November 1998. Regardless, just deflecting the argument. here is avoid responsibility for the action of discarding it.

    Also even if the space yunk dropped on your property under U.S. law it remains the property of the U.S. Government . As far as I know, you would have to surrender it to the authorities. Otherwise, they might let you have a piece after it had been analysed by them, though I would be worried by possible contamination of residual ammonia from the unit.

    When Skylab fell to Earth in the 1970s, the local government council of the Shire of Esperance in Western Australia took the issue to court which was adjudged a liable for littering. The U.S. government was asked to pay $400, but the cheapskates have never paid the fine! Hence, for this reason, as others have said elsewhere;”NASA notably kept mum about the EAS return to Earth.”

    Also I forgot to mention that in 2007 merely a week after this was tossed for the ISS, the then ISS Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin called the unit “Nebraska 1” – as if it were a satellite.

  21. Aodhhan says:

    Technically, it was a satellite!

    It was called this because the person who actually ‘tossed’ it into an orbit on its own is from Nebraska.

    I’m sure you’ll argue this to no end, but a piece of Skylab actually punched a hole in the roof of a shack someone was living in located in a rural part of Australia, and they were compensated for the damage. Although probably from the State Department, not NASA itself.

    Sounds like its time for a South Park episode: Russel Crowe fights space debris!

  22. AndJames says:

    Aodhakn,

    I didn’t know about either of these points…

    As to South Park, i couldn’t agree with you more.

    Also thinking about South Park, by the way, couldn’t we blame Canada?

Comments are closed.