SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage breaks up in Earth's atmosphere, 5 years after launch

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to send the EchoStar 23 satellite into orbit. The was expected to be SpaceX's last flight that would throw away the Falcon 9 first stage.
(Image credit: SpaceX)

A SpaceX rocket's upper stage appears to have broken up safely over Mexico, five years after sending a satellite into space.

Local reports on Twitter indicated that a part of the Falcon 9 that sent the Echostar 23 mission aloft in March 2017 met its demise Saturday (Feb. 6) after falling into the Earth's atmosphere.

"Tonight a 'meteorite' has been seen falling over northern Mexico," Spanish-language feed Frontera Espacial tweeted (opens in new tab) along with a video showing the disintegrating second stage. 

A meteorite is a space rock that has made it all the way through the atmosphere and landed on the ground, although in this case the rocket stage completely disintegrated high above Earth, according to Frontera, so it wasn't really a meteorite. And as you can see below, this Twitter feed was just one of several that spotted the disintegrating rocket.

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Neither SpaceX nor its founder, Elon Musk, commented on the Falcon 9's disintegration on Twitter. It's very normal for rocket stages to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere, however, so it may be that neither saw the need to discuss the matter.

The reentry of the Falcon 9's upper stage was confirmed (opens in new tab) on the Aerospace Corporation's website, which tracks upcoming reentries of satellites and space vehicles.

Echostar 23, which that Falcon 9 stage helped put into space, was launched to geostationary transfer orbit some 22,300 miles (35,900 kilometers) above Earth and was initially targeted for an orbital position above the equator at 45 degrees west longitude. 

Its initial mission was to provide broadcast, internet and other communications services to Brazil. The satellite is operational and expected to last for at least another decade, according to NASA (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace