Article Title

Using fireball networks to track more frequent reentries: Falcon 9 upper-stage orbit determination from video recordings


fireball, reentry, deorbit, artificial meteor, multistation


On February 16, 2021, an artificial object moving slowly over the Mediterranean was recorded by the Spanish Meteor Network (SPMN). Based on astrometric measurements, we identified this event as the reentry engine burn of a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle's upper stage. To study this event in detail, we adapted the plane intersection method for near-straight meteoroid trajectories to analyze the slow and curved orbits associated with artificial objects. To corroborate our results, we approximated the orbital elements of the upper stage using four pieces of "debris" cataloged by the U.S. Government's Combined Space Operations Center. Based on these calculations, we also estimated the possible deorbit hazard zone using the MSISE90 model atmosphere. We provide guidance regarding the interference that these artificial bolides may generate in fireball studies. Additionally, because artificial bolides will likely become more frequent in the future, we point out the new role that ground-based detection networks can play in the monitoring of potentially hazardous artificial objects in near-Earth space and in determining the strewn fields of artificial space debris.