UN weighs after confirming another piece of space junk in Snowy Mountains is SpaceX

A United Nations panel has shared more details about bits of space junk found in the snowy mountains of New South Wales, while the fourth piece has also been confirmed to belong to SpaceX.

The most recent piece was found by a cattle rancher in Tombaromba in August, initially thought to be rubbish.

The first two pieces of debris were found at nearby sheep farms in Daleje in July, while a third was later found on a property near Jindabyn.

The Australian Space Agency confirmed last month that the first three pieces belong to the SpaceX mission and has now confirmed the same for the fourth.

“The Australian Space Agency has worked with SpaceX to confirm that the element found at Tombarumba is from the same SpaceX mission as the recent wreckage in the Snowy Mountains region of southern New South Wales,” an ASA spokesperson said.

Meek Miners stumbled across this piece of junk space while collecting his sheep in July.(ABC South East NSW: Adrien Reardon)

“The agency continues to communicate with our global counterparts about the next steps on each piece of wreckage, including whether they will need to be returned and what can be learned from this event.”

ANU astrophysicist Brad Tucker, who has personally examined each piece, says, “It’s not a huge surprise” that the newest piece belongs to SpaceX.

But there could still be more pieces.

“You can tell it was part of one of the interior panels,” he said.

“The composition was the same, it was the same shape and it was on that flight path.”

A man carrying a piece of space junk
Jock Wallace, one of Miners’ neighbors, also found a piece of space debris in July.(ABC South East NSW: Adrien Reardon)

“This thing is moving really fast, so even a minute or two at the speed it was traveling when it hits it can spread over a few hundred kilometers.”

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The discovery of the fragments came just weeks after locals in the area said they heard a sonic boom on July 9, believed to have been caused by the stump of the SpaceX Dragon capsule into Earth’s atmosphere.

It has captured international attention, and the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space of the United Nations General Assembly was the latest comment on the event.

A speech to the committee on August 29 revealed new details about the first three pieces that were attached to the SpaceX jet that launched on November 16, 2020, and were disposed of on May 2, 2021.

Piece of junk space
A piece of space junk was found in the snowy mountains near Jindabyn.(Supplied: Nick Lodge)

They revealed that the shrapnel is made of titanium, steel, aluminum, fiberglass, carbon fiber and insulation materials and weighs 20, 35 and 100 kilograms, respectively.

“The parts are not considered to be of a dangerous or harmful nature,” the statement said.

“They are still in special detention.”

Junk space puzzle

ABC understands that SpaceX officials visited NSW Snowy Mountains on August 10 to inspect the first three pieces, after publicly acknowledging the accident for the first time (and so far only) days earlier.

Mr Tucker said the UN panel’s letter is a formality, but it also shows some transparency regarding how Australia and the US have managed the incident.

“This is a very clear document to say, ‘This is what happened when SpaceX came out,'” he said.

“It’s kind of good to show that there is an international commitment that is being implemented.”

Man standing next to space junk with arms crossed
Brad Tucker was not surprised by the Australian Space Agency’s confirmation that the fourth piece of space debris also belongs to SpaceX.(ABC South East NSW: Adrien Reardon)

Mr. Tucker anticipates a similar title to occur in the near future in connection with this fourth piece found at Tumbarumba.

But there is still a question mark over SpaceX’s decision on what to do with the found parts.

“It is still technically the property of SpaceX but whether or not they want to take it back, and how this process will take place is still unclear,” he said.

“I’d still be inclined to say that SpaceX wouldn’t want to take it back, but I could be wrong.”

The Australian Space Agency urges the community not to handle pieces of junk in space, reporting the SpaceX Debris Hotline at 1-866-623-0234 or email recovery@spacex.com.

SpaceX has been contacted for comment.

A piece of space debris spotted from a distance on a hill
This piece of space debris, located on Mr. Miners’ property near Daleigh, is a fin from the SpaceX Dragon’s chest.(ABC South East NSW: Adrien Reardon)