Debris from a Falcon 9 rocket made for an impressive light show in the sky

Shane McGlaun - Mar 27, 2021, 9:53am CDT
Debris from a Falcon 9 rocket made for an impressive light show in the sky

Some United States residents got an impressive light show that resulted from an uncontrolled re-entry of a Falcon 9 rocket in the skies over the US. About three weeks ago, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center loaded with 60 Starlink satellites. That entire mission went without a hitch regarding putting the satellites into orbit, but there was an issue with the rocket’s second stage.

Typically, the Falcon 9 Merlin engine will relight within an orbit or two deploying satellites, pushing the second stage downward, allowing it to reenter the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean harmlessly. The problem, in this case, was a lack of fuel meant the Merlin engine couldn’t reignite.

The propellant was vented into space, and the second stage was set for an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere. The rocket stage was orbiting the earth at an altitude of about 250 kilometers, where it was susceptible to drag from the planet’s upper atmosphere. After orbiting for three weeks, the second stage reentered the atmosphere over populated areas in Portland and Washington on Thursday night.

Videos were taken from people on the ground showing multiple chunks of debris glowing brightly as they burned up in the atmosphere. It looked rather like a scene from a Transformers movie or other science fiction film.

The rocket second stage weighs about four metric tons without fuel. The rocket is believed to have completely broken up over the Rocky Mountains near the US and Canadian border. Interestingly, there is a possibility that some components of the rocket made it to the ground. However, there have been no reports of any injuries, and at this time, no debris has been found.

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