What is the greatest distance from its launch site that a failed rocket (or its debris) has landed?

  • Failures only. This excludes surface-to-surface or surface-to-air missiles, which are intended to hit a target. Also excludes missiles that are targets for anti-missile weapons.
  • Launch only. Exclude spacecraft that have reached orbit, even if they later fall out of orbit.
  • Include the debris of a rocket that was destroyed because it was malfunctioning.
  • Landing off-target is covered in this question.

This question asks in part about the specifications for range safety used to place a launch site in Florida. If such information is public, then it should be answered there. Otherwise, the answer to this question gives a good idea of how large a "safe area" would need to be.

  • $\begingroup$ Sounding rockets? $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 2:38
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    $\begingroup$ Successful launches can drop a lot of things too, range safety isn't only about failure. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 30, 2020 at 3:29
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh: Fair enough, but let's approach the question as written. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Apr 30, 2020 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon turns out it wasn't very far at all. Just politically incorrect. nytimes.com/1947/05/30/archives/… $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ Within the literal constraints of your question, Surveyor 2 crashed approximately 380,000 km from the launch site after the failure of one of the third-stage engines left it uncontrollable. None of the Surveyor probes ever reached orbit -- they were launched on a direct-injection trajectory from the Earth's surface to the Moon's surface. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Apr 30, 2020 at 23:07

2 Answers 2


A satellite with SNAP-9A plutonium energy unit was launched from Florida in 1964. It failed to reach orbit.

Debris fell in Southern hemisphere including Madagascar.

It's more than 14000 km fom the launch site.


  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, a solid 70% of the maximum possible distance of 20000km (if the debris landed at the exact antipode of the launch site), and only 20% of the earth's surface is farther away than 14000km. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ Theoretically speaking, I can come up with scenarios whereby the downrange distance to impact would be greater than half of our planet's circumference... $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Apr 30, 2020 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Digger What's the downrange distance if you go more than once around? (I'm thinking of an orbital shot that goes at too low an angle and goes into "orbit" too low to actually stay up there.) $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang I know it's nitpicking, but I'm pretty sure that all of Earth's surface is closer than 14000km ;-) $\endgroup$
    – JohnEye
    Apr 30, 2020 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnEye Technically, you are correct, the best kind of correct. Let me know how your trip to Madagascar via the Earth's core goes, I hear it's lovely this time of geological era. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 20:33

Soyuz 7K-T No.39 The mission was expected to dock with the orbiting Salyut 4 space station, but due to a failure of the Soyuz launch vehicle the crew failed to make orbit. The capsule landed southwest of Gorno-Altaisk. 2 500 km from Baikonur Cosmodrome

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer. It's worth noting that the crew survived, and that their rescue is an interesting story. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Apr 30, 2020 at 13:19

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