The videos are incredible.
On March 4, SpaceX launched its latest batch of broadband-beaming Starlink satellites into orbit using one of the company’s workhorse Falcon 9 rockets.
But the launch didn’t go entirely as planned. The rocket’s second stage failed to light its engines during deorbit and spent the last 23 days in space — until careening through the Earth’s atmosphere last night in an epic light show.
Its reentry lit up the skies like a spectacular fireworks display around 4am local time over the Seattle area. Videos of the uncontrolled reentry showed up on social media, with bewildered onlookers trying to make sense of what they’ve just seen.
The Falcon 9 second stage from the Mar 4 Starlink launch failed to make a deorbit burn and is now reentering after 22 days in orbit. Its reentry was observed from the Seattle area at about 0400 UTC Mar 26. pic.twitter.com/FQrBrUoBHh
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) March 26, 2021
Videos show the second stage breaking up into small pieces as it burns up.
Caught it in Portland just now! Was so amazing. pic.twitter.com/IQtKlvgeHk
— JC Crowl (@jc_xvx) March 26, 2021
The rocket stage was mean to slowly make its way back down to Earth in a much more controlled manner.
“Basically, if an object is in orbit around the Earth, it doesn’t need any propellant or anything to keep going around the Earth, it’ll just go around and around and around,” Bill Burnyeat, community astronomer for Canadian Planetariums, told local Vancouver news station News 1130.
But the deorbit burn never occurred.
“It’s kind of like if you had a car that was moving in a parking lot but there was no one driving and the car was just driving around and around randomly, then eventually would hit something,” Burnyeat added.
The pressure the stage met when it hit the atmosphere was so intense that even the metal glowed as it burned up.
“Most it will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere so there’s no real danger of it falling on someone’s head,” Burnyeat told News 1130.
READ MORE: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket debris creates spectacular light show for Metro Vancouver [News 1130]
More on reentries: Amazing Footage Shows Ancient NASA Satellite Burning Up During Reentry