Australia beach debris likely to have come from Indian space rocket

Mystery of object that washed ashore on July 17 may have been solved

The Australian Space Agency says debris found on a beach in Western Australia on July 17 is believed to be remains of an Indian rocket. Photo: Australian Space Agency
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A large piece of mechanical debris found on an Australian beach last month is likely to be a remnant of an Indian rocket, the Australian Space Agency has said.

The object washed ashore near Jurien Bay, about 218km north of Perth, Western Australia, on July 17. Images of the debris were widely shared online.

On Monday, the agency said that the debris was possibly from a rocket operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).

“We have concluded the object located on a beach near Jurien Bay is most likely debris from an expended third stage of a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle,” the agency tweeted.

“The debris remains in storage, and the Australian Space Agency is working with Isro, who will provide further confirmation to determine the next steps, including considering obligations under the United Nations space treaties.”

This is not the first time remnants of a rocket have been found on land.

Large pieces of metal found in Indonesian and Malaysian villages last year were thought to be debris from a Chinese rocket that had made an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

The Long March 5B, China’s largest rocket, had fallen back to Earth after a fiery re-entry over the Indian Ocean.

In another incident last year, a large piece of debris was found in an Australian farm, which is believed to be remains of a SpaceX craft.

Lower parts of a rocket are usually discarded into the ocean, while smaller parts usually burn up in the planet's atmosphere during re-entry.

But there are some larger pieces that can survive and return to Earth.

No injuries have been reported from space debris, but it is a growing concern among experts, as the number of space activities grows.

A crowded low-Earth orbit is also a concern as the number of satellites operating there continues to rise.

Usually, retired satellites are moved down to the “graveyard orbit” or are lowered even more, so they can burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Last week, the European Space Agency carried out an assisted re-entry of its Aeolus satellite into Earth's atmosphere.

The satellite, which was built in the 1990s, was never designed to have help from engineers to fall back to Earth.

But a series of complex manoeuvres helped lowered its orbit so it could re-enter the atmosphere and burn up.

“Today, satellite missions are designed according to regulations that require them to minimise the risk of causing damage on their return to Earth,” the space agency said.

“This would typically be achieved by the majority of a satellite burning up on re-entry or through a controlled re-entry at the end of their life in orbit.

“However, when Aeolus was designed back in the late 1990s no such regulations were in place.

“So, after running out of fuel and without intervention, Aeolus would have re-entered Earth’s atmosphere naturally within a few weeks from now – but with no control over where this would happen.”

Updated: August 02, 2023, 11:35 AM