Debris Found in North Carolina Came From SpaceX Dragon, NASA Says

A hunk of metal found on a remote trail in a luxury camping resort in North Carolina came from a SpaceX Dragon capsule, NASA said, confirming that the mystery object was yet another piece of space junk that has recently landed on Earth.

The debris came from the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft that had re-entered Earth’s atmosphere after traveling to the International Space Station, NASA said in an emailed statement. “NASA is unaware of any structural damage or injuries resulting from these findings,” the space agency said.

Space debris is equipment left in space by humans and can include objects such as satellites that no longer work or small hardware from spacecraft. In recent months, a family in Florida sued NASA because a fixture from one of the space agency’s flights landed on their home. Separately, SpaceX workers traveled to a Canadian farm to retrieve debris found there.

The North Carolina object was found in the mountains about 23 miles west of Asheville, N.C., at a resort called the Glamping Collective. The private property has about five miles of private hiking trails, and its guests stay in geodesic domes and cabins.

Matt Bare, a founder of the Glamping Collective, said about eight acres of the 160-acre property have been developed, and the object happened to land on one of the hiking trails. “It could have been just about anywhere else on the property and no one would have ever seen it,” he said.

A member of the resort’s landscaping crew found the debris on May 22 while doing routine trail maintenance. Mr. Bare estimated that the object weighed about 100 pounds and was about 4 feet by 4 feet in size. He said that they quickly realized that the object had to have come from the sky because of its size and the remote location where it was found.

Mr. Bare recalled that when they were building the resort’s geodesic domes, locals said that it looked as if U.F.O.s had landed on the mountain. “We just kind of laughed it off, but two years later, we actually have unidentified flying objects that have landed on Crabtree Mountain.”

The space junk is now on display for guests to view at the resort. Mr. Bare said that employees had not heard from NASA or SpaceX.

The debris came from the trunk of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, NASA said. The Dragon spacecraft has two sections: a pressurized one that can carry people or cargo, and a depressurized section, the trunk, which has hardware used for spacecraft power and cooling while in orbit. The trunk remains attached to the Dragon until shortly before re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, when it is jettisoned and breaks up.

SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment.

“During its initial design, the Dragon spacecraft trunk was evaluated for re-entry breakup and was predicted to burn up fully,” NASA said. “The information from the debris recovery provides an opportunity for teams to improve debris modeling. NASA and SpaceX will continue exploring additional solutions as we learn from the discovered debris.”

After WLOS, a local news channel in North Carolina, reported on the debris found at the Glamping Collective, residents in nearby towns told the news channel that they had found smaller pieces of similar-looking objects in their yards.

There are millions of pieces of space junk flying in the low Earth orbit, the region of space where objects fly at an altitude of 1,200 miles or lower, according to NASA.

Last week, a decommissioned Russian satellite broke apart into more than 100 shards, creating a cloud of debris in low Earth orbit that prompted astronauts aboard the International Space Station to take protective measures for about an hour.

Space junk can also find its way to Earth.

A piece of a SpaceX Dragon capsule’s trunk was found by a sheepherder in a remote corner of southeastern Australia in July 2022. Last month, SpaceX employees retrieved debris from a farm in Saskatchewan, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

A family in Naples, Fla., sued NASA in May after their home was hit in March by a piece of space debris. The space agency said it had expected the debris to fully burn up during entry through the Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA said that “in the unlikely event” a person found space debris, they should not try to handle or retrieve it, but that they should contact the SpaceX debris hotline.

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