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A destructive re-entry of a part of Russian Soyuz rocket launched March 21 was observed and recorded over the French Riviera, Tuscany and southern Italy at 01:30 UTC on Sunday, March 25, 2018. The event reportedly caused panic as many people thought it was Chinese Tiangong-1 space laboratory falling.
The Soyuz FG rocket lifted off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome at 17:44 UTC on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, carrying into orbit the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft headed to the International Space Station with veteran Cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev and NASA Flight Engineers Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, SpaceFlight101 explained.
Blasting off from the remote launch site, Soyuz dropped its four boosters 2 minutes after taking flight and shed its large central core before hitting the 5-minute mark, handing off to the Block I third stage for the final push into orbit. Soyuz MS-08 separated from the Block I 8 minutes and 48 seconds after liftoff, later climbing up toward the Space Station while the spent third stage remained in the relatively low injection orbit.
The Joint Space Operations Center pin-pointed the re-entry of the Block I upper stage at 01:25 UTC ±1 minute – a two-minute entry window centered on 41.9°N and 8.1°E. This data was obtained through the U.S. Missile Early Warning architecture comprising several sharp-eyed infrared-sensing satellites in Geostationary Orbit to detect the infrared signature of missile launches.
In the final minutes of its flight, the rocket stage was headed from NW to SE, crossing over southern France from Île d’Oléron to Marseille before flying over the Mediterranean Sea, crossing right between the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.
While temperatures reached during re-entry can melt most metals, some dense parts of the 6.7 m (22 feet) long Block I third stage of the Soyuz, like turbopump shafts or pressurant tanks, can survive the re-entry and impact 800 – 1 300 km (500 – 800 miles) downrange from the Orbital Decay Point.
“Based on the decay point determined by JSpOC and the available observer reports, any surviving debris of the rocket stage likely impacted in the Mediterranean Sea SE of Sicily,” SpaceFlight101 concluded.
Featured image: Destructive re-entry of Soyuz rocket’s Block I recorded over Corsica and Sardinia