A piece of a SpaceX spacecraft made a dramatic but harmless re-entry over the western United States late Thursday (April 27).
The "trunk" section of a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft broke into shimmering streaks over a swath of states, such as Colorado and Arizona, at about 4:52 a.m. EDT (0952 GMT). That equates to 1:52 a.m. or 2:52 a.m. locally depending on location.
The "trunk", used to launch the NASA Crew-5 astronaut mission to the International Space Station in October 2022, is an unpressurized cargo hold that supports Crew Dragon during the launch phase, according to SpaceX materials. The trunk powers Dragon during flight or docking operations.
The American Meteor Society tracked at least 36 reports of the fireball in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Several of the space junk reports included images or video, including one spotted at Denver International Airport in a brilliant video by observer Scott Davis.
Video of last night's @SpaceX reentryCredit: Scott Davis at Denver AirportEvent page: https://t.co/fVR5LsaDky pic.twitter.com/M3EoB79FuqApril 27, 2023
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer and astrophysicist at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks re-entry events, confirmed it was a SpaceX trunk that was jettisoned from Crew Dragon on March 12 during that mission's successful splashdown. "The reentry breakup was widely seen," he wrote on Twitter.
On Mar 12 the @SpaceX Crew-5 Dragon jettisoned its trunk section into a 300 x 410 km orbit. The trunk, object 55840, made an uncontrolled reentry last night at 0852 UTC = 0252 MDT = 0152 MST on a track from Phoenix to Colorado Springs. The reentry breakup was widely seen. pic.twitter.com/I1Ill9TNEPApril 27, 2023
SpaceX also confirmed the hardware was from the Crew Dragon in a statement to CBS KKTV 11, which is based in Colorado Springs.
"Overnight, the 18th Space Defense Squadron confirmed re-entry of SpaceX’s Crew-5 Dragon trunk occurred on Thursday, April 27," part of the SpaceX statement read.
"NASA and SpaceX are committed to safe commercial crew operations and are working closely to improve orbital hardware demise modeling," officials added.
Anyone who comes across debris is asked to report it to SpaceX immediately, and not to touch it. The hotline is at 1-866-623-0234 or an email is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.