Tech and Science

Mystery object that washed up on Australia beach believed to be part of a rocket


Canberra, Australia — Authorities are investigating whether a cylindrical object about the size of a small car that washed up on a remote Australian beach is space junk from a foreign rocket. Police cordoned off the barnacle-encrusted object after it was discovered on a beach in Green Head, about 155 miles north of the city of Perth, late Sunday.

The Australian Space Agency said it was liaising with other space agencies to identify the object, which appears to be partly made of a woven material.

“The object could be from a foreign space launch vehicle and we are liaising with global counterparts who may be able to provide more information,” the agency tweeted.

A large object is seen washed up on a beach at Green Head, near Perth, Australia, July 17, 2023.


European Space Agency engineer Andrea Boyd said her colleagues believed the item that washed up from the Indian Ocean fell from an Indian rocket while launching a satellite.

“We’re pretty sure, based on the shape and the size, it is an upper-stage engine from an Indian rocket that’s used for a lot of different missions,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Whoever launched the object into space would be responsible for its disposal.

“There is a United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, and they have an Outer Space Treaty that everyone has signed saying that whoever launches something into space is responsible for it right until the very end,” Boyd said.

The Indian Space Research Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Western Australia Police said in a statement on Monday that a government chemical analysis had determined the object was safe and “there is no current risk to the community.”

Authorities had earlier treated the device as hazardous and urged the public to stay away.

Police said the device would be removed following formal identification of its origin.

“Police will maintain security of the object until it is removed and members of the public are requested to stay away from the location,” the statement said.

Some early media reports suggested the find might be part of MH370, the Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared in the Indian Ocean in 2014 with the loss of 239 lives. But that theory was quickly discounted.

“It appears to be a possible fuel tank from a rocket that has been launched in the last 12 months that’s dropped into the Indian Ocean,” aviation expert and editor-in-chief of the website, Geoffrey Thomas, told the Reuters news agency, adding that there was “no chance” the object was part of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.

“It’s not any part of a Boeing 777, and the fact is MH370 was lost nine and a half years ago, so it would show a great deal more wear and tear on the debris,” Thomas told Reuters.

Curious locals had quickly gathered to pose for photos with the object on Sunday before police arrived.

Australian National University astrophysicist and cosmologist Brad Tucker said the object “definitely does look space chunky.”

An upper-stage of a rocket could contain the carcinogenic fuel hydrazine, so bystanders should keep their distance, Tucker said.


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