International Space Station Battery Piece May Have Crashed Through Florida Home

A lot of space debris is simply dropped down towards Earth, where the friction of the atmosphere should burn it up and destroy it before it can reach us. However, that is not always the case, and NASA is now investigating whether a piece of a battery pallet released in 2021 came crashing down through the roof of a home in Naples, Florida on March 8.

The batteries had been used on the International Space Station (ISS) for years, and once they were no longer useful, a whole pallet of them was dropped from the ISS. It was going to orbit Earth for a while, but the air friction with the most tenuous layers of the atmosphere would eventually slow it down enough and make it come down.

“Mission controllers in Houston commanded the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release an external pallet loaded with old nickel-hydrogen batteries into Earth orbit on Thursday morning. It is safely moving away from the station and will orbit Earth between two to four years before burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere,” NASA wrote in a statement back on March 11, 2021.

Best laid plans, am I right? The nine batteries were packed on the HTV9 cargo ship that visited the ISS between May and Aug 2020. Despite expectation that the pallet was going to burn, it became clear as it got lower that about half a tonne of the original 2.6 would survive the atmospheric burn, as astronomer Jonathan McDowell reported on Twitter. 

  

Details were also shared by the European Space Agency which was tracking this object.

“The total mass of the batteries is estimated at 2.6 metric tonnes, most of which may burn up during the reentry. While some parts may reach the ground, the casualty risk – the likelihood of a person being hit – is very low,” a statement said.

It was on a follow-up to McDowell’s first tweet that Alejandro Otero reported that what he believed was a piece of the pallet had crashed through the roof and two floors of his house, almost hitting his son. McDowell assisted Otero, who got in touch with the Aerospace Corporation, and NASA then got in touch.

“NASA collected an item in cooperation with the homeowner, and will analyze the object at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as soon as possible to determine its origin,” NASA told AFP on Tuesday. “More information will be available once the analysis is complete.”

It is unclear if anyone including NASA is liable for damage. The space station was issued a fine for littering when bits of Skylab fell in a town in Australia, but they didn’t pay it.

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