Just before dawn on Wednesday (Nov. 26), a pilot in Belgrade caught this stunning video of a “huge number of glowing pieces of whatever” breaking up in the atmosphere above.
You know what this is? A rocket, most likely! It’s the upper stage for the Soyuz that launched three people to space on Sunday (Nov. 23), the European Space Agency says.
The video is just one of several reports that came into the agency following the launch of ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (an Italian) and her crewmates, NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. ESA said the accounts matched times provided by U.S. Strategic Command, which tracked the rocket’s destruction as well.
This has happened before, but ESA says it’s more likely to occur when astronauts take the “fast-track” six-hour ride to the International Space Station, which took place for the first time in March 2013 after several tests with uncrewed Progress spacecraft. (Previously, astronauts took about two days to get from Earth to station.)
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) November 25, 2014
“We had at least one previous example on 24 December 2011, when the Soyuz upper stage that launched André Kuipers similarly re-entered – there were many eyewitnesses in the Netherlands and Germany,” stated Holger Krag, Head of ESA’s space debris office.
Despite the spectacular video, ESA added that few objects from the streaking rocket will actually reach the ground as the breakup happens so high up in the atmosphere, at 80 km to 100 km (roughly 50 miles to 62 miles).
Source: European Space Agency