A piece of debris from a 2014 SpaceX Falcon 9 launch was recovered off the English coast Nov. 26 Credit: James Druce/Reddit

A piece of debris from a 2014 SpaceX Falcon 9 launch was recovered off the English coast Thursday. 

Boaters found the object, measuring 10 by 4 meters and bearing SpaceX markings, in the waters off the Isles of Scilly, southwest of Cornwall.

British officials initially claimed the debris was from the failed June launch of a Falcon 9, but a crowdsourced investigation by members of Reddit concluded it was instead from the CRS-4 launch in September 2014.

“I got it! It’s the CRS-4 interstage,” Reddit user _R_  posted Friday. “The falcon beak ends to the right side of the “o” in “Falcon”, and the bulge above “n” is different on CRS-4.”

Sharp-eyed Reddit users noticed something unique about Falcon's markings. Credit: _R_/Reddit
Sharp-eyed Reddit users noticed something different about the Falcon that launched CRS-4. Credit: _R_/Reddit

Reddit users embraced the find.

“Well done.”

“Nice work.”

“Super job!”

“Amazing to think, that nearly 18 months later, it’s travelled across the globe on ocean currents.”

“Any chance you could update the BBC? ;-)”

The BBC, which attributed the CRS-5 conclusion to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency officials involved in the recovery effort, updated its story Friday to include the Reddit CRS-4 claim:

 Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said many experts believed, due to the size and markings which have now been revealed, it was from a different mission.

“All the geeks have been getting together and looking at fine details, and we’re pretty sure it’s a launch from September 2014 that successfully sent a cargo mission to the space station.


More News

NASA has installed the first mirror on the James Webb Space Telescope. Workers at the Goddard Space Flight Center placed the first of 18 hexagonal mirror segments into position on the telescope’s structure last week. All 18 mirrors are expected to be in place by early 2016 as JWST stays on schedule for a launch in late 2018. [NASA]

China launched another reconnaissance satellite Thursday. The Long March 4C rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center at 4:24 p.m. Eastern time Thursday and placed the Yaogan 29 satellite into orbit. Official Chinese media, which did not announce the launch in advance, said that the spacecraft will be used for civil purposes, but Western observers believe the Yaogan series is used for military purposes. The orbit and launch vehicle used suggest Yaogan 29 is a radar mapping satellite. [Spaceflight Now]

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The satellite industry held its ground as the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) wrapped up Friday. The industry convinced nations not to study potential terrestrial use of Ka-band spectrum currently reserved for satellites. Delegates also agreed to allow the use of Ka- and Ku-band spectrum reserved for fixed satellite services for communications with UAVs on long-haul flights, pending validation by the International Civil Aviation Authority. Terrestrial operators also lost a fight for more access to C-band spectrum used by satellites, except for a band from 3.4 to 3.6 gigahertz that the satellite industry was largely moving away from. [SpaceNews]

A retired NOAA weather satellite suffered an apparent breakup in orbit Wednesday. The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) said it first detected what appears to be a breakup of the NOAA 16 polar-orbiting weather satellite early Wednesday, and said it was tracking an unspecified number of “associated objects” linked to it. The debris does not threaten any other satellites currently, and JSpOC said it does not believe the breakup was caused by a collision. NOAA 16 was launched in 2000 and operated well past its planned lifetime of three to five years, serving in a backup role until it suffered a mission-ending failure last year. [SpaceNews]

President Obama signed a commercial space bill into law Wednesday. The President signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, the compromise version of House and Senate commercial space bills the two houses approved earlier in the month. The bill extends existing provisions regarding third-party launch indemnification and a “learning period” limiting safety regulations for commercial spaceflight participants, as well as making a number of other tweaks to commercial launch law. The bill also recognizes property rights to resources extracted from asteroids and other solar system bodies, but not rights to those bodies themselves. [GeekWire]


Forecasts predict a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather for Thursday’s Atlas launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft. Clouds and isolated showers are the primary weather concern for the launch from Cape Canaveral, scheduled for 5:55 p.m. Eastern time Thursday at the beginning of a 30-minute launch window. If delayed until Friday, the chance of acceptable weather remains at 60 percent. The launch will send the Orbital ATK-built Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station with more than 3,500 kilograms of supplies, experiments, and other hardware. [U.S. Air Force]

As a major climate conference gets underway in Paris, the French space agency CNES plans to play up the role of satellites to monitor any accord reached there. CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said he will emphasize the use of satellites to monitor the changing climate at the COP21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change. The data from those satellites must be shared internationally, he said, if they are to be used as part of monitoring from any agreement reached to limit global temperature increases, one of the goals of the conference. [SpaceNews]

Work on ESA’s ExoMars mission is in a “deadlined-stressed mode” as its launch date approaches. The industry team led by Thales Alenia Space is working three shifts to complete the ExoMars orbiter and landing demonstrator to ship to the Baikonur Cosmodrome for launch in March on a Proton rocket. Assembly of the spacecraft is still on scheduled to be completed early next month, with the spacecraft then transported to Baikonur. A more ambitious 2018 mission, including a lander and rover, is still 175 million euros short of the funding needed, and there is already some discussion about delaying its launch. [SpaceNews]

Actor Ryan Gosling may play Neil Armstrong in an upcoming film about the famous astronaut. Gosling is reportedly being courted for the lead role in First Man, a film about Armstrong’s life based on the biography of the same name by James Hansen. The film is still in the early stages of development, with its screenplay still being written and no release date set. [Deadline Hollywood]

The Week Ahead




  • London: The Royal Aeronautical Society holds a conference on human spaceflight, responding to a policy document published by the UK government. ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy will be the keynote speaker.
  • Laurel, Md.: The Space Policy and History Forum meets at the Johns Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Lab, with NASA Mars Exploration Program Scientist Michael Meyer as the speaker.




  • Cape Canaveral, Fla.: An Atlas 5 rocket is scheduled to launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS during a 30-minute launch window that opens at 5:55 p.m. Eastern.
  • Near Earth: The Japanese asteroid mission Hayabusa-2 will make a gravity assist flyby of the Earth en route to its destination, the asteroid Ryugu.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...