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 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.

Related: See the evolution of SpaceX rockets in pictures

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 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.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, 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 a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: