In reading these two questions: How many kilograms of nickel particles will be dispersed in Earth's atmosphere by dumping old ISS batteries overboard? and Why does it take so long for ISS garbage to fall out of orbit?, the information provided in these two questions would seem to indicate that this pallet of batteries (and other no-longer-needed stuff), is rather dense. It would seem that much less dense (per volume) items (such as Skylab, Mir, etc.) did have some components not burn up, so to me as an untrained person that it seems very likely that some material will make it all the way down.

Since there doesn't appear to be any controlled mechanism for de-orbit over a particular spot of the earth (i.e. over an unpopulated ocean area), what is the likelihood that a portion of this material will reach the surface and not completely burn up on its way down?

  • $\begingroup$ Something to keep in mind here: It's a pallet of trash, no doubt without any strong bindings. The first thing that will burn is the bindings--now you have a bunch of separate objects rather than one bigger object. It will burn much better than you would think. $\endgroup$ Nov 25, 2022 at 16:25

1 Answer 1


Hmmm... this is too close to be a coincidence. These are from about four months ago:

and this just happened:

The question asks:

...what is the likelihood that a portion of this material will reach the surface and not completely burn up on its way down?

It seems that the likelihood is low if SpaceX can help it!

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy's first demonstration mission was to add junk to space (but to its credit it is not likely to affect Earth any time soon.)

Most germaine:

But also see:

If the number of questions here about a car past Mars is any gauge, there will be great notice of Starship's first stunt.

SpaceX's Starship's first demonstration mission could have a useful capability to remove junk from space and this was just eluded to a few months ago

Here's a video of Patrick Lucas Austin, Time Technology Columnist interviewing Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX just a few weeks earlier, cued at 03:33

Q: In a more literal sense, Space is littered with a lot of dead things you know, I’m talking space debris. Is SpaceX considering any new technology or even new policy to combat…

A: In fact the Starlink program was a great opportunity to have a pretty big voice in that and also learn our own lessons1... as you mentioned there’s rocket bodies littering the space environment and dead satellites littering the space environment... And I do want to put in a plug for Starship here. Starship is an extraordinary new vehicle capability. Not only will it decrease the cost of access to space... but it also has the capability of taking cargo and crew at the same time, so it’s quite possible that we could leverage Starship to go to some of these dead rocket bodies (other people’s rockets of course!) basically go pick up some of this junk in outer space. (emphasis added)

1cf. https://astronomy.stackexchange.com/q/34219/7982 (based on a Shotwell quote)

The video Engineering Today video SpaceX Starship could be used to clean up Space Debris discusses the failed (EOM), large, ESA satellite Envisat (also here).

From Ashwati Das's spacegeneration interview of Shotwell:

A: If we were to have a satellite that was going to be troublesome, what I would love to do is think about using the Starship capability to go pick up the space debris. And I know that that’s really hard and it’s very much kind-of a futuristic concept, but I definitely think that that’s something worth pursuing. So we wouldn’t service the satellite, but it would be great to go up and “grab it” and bring it back.

cued at 08:37

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Open the cargo bay doors HAL! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 18, 2021 at 7:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that. $\endgroup$
    – Tom Sol
    Mar 18, 2021 at 12:23

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