Australian Space Agency reveals origins of mysterious space debris

The debris belongs to a discarded third stage from an Indian rocket.
Sejal Sharma
The debris washed up on the shores of Australia
The debris washed up on the shores of Australia

Australia Space Agency/X 

Weeks after speculation over a large chunk of space debris that washed up on a remote West Australian beach, the Australian Space Agency has revealed that it belonged to an Indian launch vehicle.

The Indian Space Research Organization - the national space agency of India, has confirmed as much to the BBC.

Mystery object found 250 kilometers north of Perth

The giant metal object was found at Green Head Beach on July 15, with Australian authorities scratching their heads over its origins.

The Australian Space Agency (ASA) tweeted yesterday that the object was "most likely debris from an expended third-stage of a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The PSLV is a medium-lift launch vehicle operated by ISRO.”

At roughly 2.5 meters wide and approximately 3 meters long, ISRO says that the third stage is a “solid rocket motor that provides the upper stages high thrust after the atmospheric phase of the launch.”

Will India take the debris back?

According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, countries must return any "foreign" space objects found in their territory to the owners. BBC spoke to ISRO’s spokesperson Sudhir Kumar who said it is now up to Australia to decide what it wants to do with the object. 

ASA further said in its tweet, “The debris remains in storage, and the Australian Space Agency is working with ISRO, who will provide further confirmation to determine next steps, including considering obligations under the United Nations space treaties.”

Space archaeologist and Associate Professor at Australia's Flinders University, Dr. Alice Gorman, told BBC that although there are many reasons why a country would want debris from one of its space shuttles back, like mission analysis, however, there are no benefits in India retrieving the object.

European Space Agency engineer Andrea Boyd had previously said that the part would likely have been designed to fall back down to Earth.

"It takes a lot of effort to get up to orbit, so the first and second and third stage [engines] usually fall off and end up in the Indian Ocean, so it's probably come from that with the currents and washed up on the beach," said Boyd, as earlier reported by Interesting Engineering.

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