SPACE DEBRIS ON ABACO: YES, IT IS ROCKET SCIENCE


Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

SPACE DEBRIS ON ABACO: YES, IT IS ROCKET SCIENCE

December has seen two remarkable events on Abaco. First, a huge dead sperm whale (estimated 50′ long) washed up at Bahama Palm Shores. Sharks had already had a go at it, and it was beginning to putrefy. An autopsy was unable to determine the cause of death (ship-strike is presumably a contender). It continued to decompose on the shoreline, becoming extremely… well, best kept at a distance. And upwind of it. I’ll post about the sad end of this magnificent creature – the largest marine mammal in the Bahamas – in a couple of weeks, after the festivities at Rolling Harbour Towers have calmed down.

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STOP PRESS 🚀 you haven’t even reached the rocket part of this yet, but just to say that a few hours after posting this article, other reports of bits of Mr Musk’s rocket debris washed up on beaches are coming in  – Tahiti Beach EC, and just now from BMMRO at Sandy Point. I’ll update tomorrow. 🚀

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Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas   Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

The second big news event for South Abaco was the discovery of a massive piece of (formerly) airborne debris drifting onto the BPS beach. Everyone was hoping the item wasn’t part of a plane fuselage, as it initially appeared to be. From the initial photos it looked to me like something from a rocket launch, maybe part of a booster rocket. It reminded me of the 12 foot part of a booster rocket fairing from the Atlas 5 rocket which launched Curiosity on its Mars mission, that washed up on the Delphi beach in early 2012. The men in black eventually came to reclaim it… More on that HERE

THIS REALLY IS ROCKET SCIENCE THEN?

Quite soon the mystery of the object’s purpose and origin began to get clearer. Luc Lavallee was quick to recognise the red external markings as matching Elon Musk’s logo, as used by his SpaceX venture. Events moved quickly. Contact with Musk’s operation confirmed that this was indeed “one of theirs”, a part from the latest launch a few days before.

AFTER a large chunk of strange space debris of (initially) unknown originFalcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

BEFORE Elon Musk’s complete Falcon 9 Rocket – note the red identFalcon 9 rocket - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

SO WHAT ON EARTH* WAS THIS CHUNK OF SPACE DEBRIS?

In the end the item was identified as part of the shroud from a Falcon 9 rocket. There was plenty of opportunity to take a good look at some of the workings. There’s potential here for some quality beach-combing (who would not want an ‘Actuator Latch Right’ rod in their living room?). There are interesting legal considerations in this type of situation… [Worried reader: please, no, I beg you]. Moving on, here’s a selection of rocket bits for contemplation.

Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas  Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco BahamasFalcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas  Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

More info was gathered, including the discovery of an astounding video from a camera fastened to a Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing, showing the nose cone spinning through space after its separation on a satellite launch earlier this year.

WHAT DOES A ROCKET SHROUD DO?

The nose shroud shields satellites during final preflight preparations and the early stages of launch. Once the rocket reaches space — an altitude above 100 kms / 62 miles — it jettisons the payload fairing to fall back into the ocean. The Falcon 9’s fairing is released in two halves, like a clamshell.

* This is the sort of occasion when people write ‘no pun intended’, though in fact they generally intend one, just rather a feeble one. Like mine, in fact. 

CREDITS: Jack Bowers and others from the BPS community for photos, info and investigative acumen; SpaceX + Spaceflight Now (unclassified) online material + videos generously posted on YT; USA Today 

Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas