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Orbital Debris Program Office

Orbital Debris Recovered Objects

On average, one non-functional spacecraft, launch vehicle orbital stage, or other piece of cataloged debris has fallen back to Earth every day for more than 40 years. The majority of these objects do not survive the intense reentry environment. For the minority which do survive in whole or in part, most fall harmlessly into the oceans or onto sparsely populated regions such as Siberia, the Australian Outback, or the Canadian Tundra. Occasionally, components of spacecraft and launch vehicles are found. Shown below are examples of objects recovered since 1997 in Texas, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

Delta Second Stage reentry object; Click for Larger View
This is the main propellant tank of the second stage of a Delta 2 launch vehicle which landed near Georgetown, TX, on 22 January 1997. This approximately 250 kg tank is primarily a stainless steel structure and survived reentry relatively intact.
PAM-D reentry object; Click for Larger View
On 21 January 2001, a Delta 2 third stage, known as a PAM-D (Payload Assist Module - Delta), reentered the atmosphere over the Middle East. The titanium motor casing of the PAM-D, weighing about 70 kg, landed in Saudi Arabia about 240 km from the capital of Riyadh.
Pressurant Tank reentry object; Click for Larger View
This 30 kg titanium pressurant tank survived the reentry of the Delta 2 second stage on 22 January 1997 also, but was found farther downrange near Seguin, TX.