Satellite signature of the Falcon 9 re-entry

March 26th, 2021 |

GOES-17 Band 7 (3.9 µm) imagery at 03:58:27, 03:59:27 and 04:00:27 on 26 March 2021 (Click to enlarge)

The Falcon 9 rocket that was launched on 4 March did not achieve orbit and re-entered the atmosphere on 26 March at just before 0400 UTC (Correction:  Falcon 9 achieved orbit.  What did not occur as planned was the 2nd stage de-orbit burn  The low orbit of the 2nd stage allowed it to re-enter on 26 March, and that is what GOES-17 detected.  Thanks to Mark — see his comment bel0w —  for the correction!)  GOES-17’s ABI detected the re-entry heat signature off the coast of Oregon, at the very edge of the Mesoscale Sector 1, at 03:59:27 on 26 March 2021, as shown above in the Band 7 (3.9 µm) images at 03:58:27, 03:59:27 and 04:00:27. The heat signature was also detectable in the Band 6 (2.2 µm) imagery.

Many thanks to Chris Schmidt, CIMSS, for finding this subtle signature in the imagery!  This tweet from Jonathan McDowell includes many ground-based video captures of the re-entry.


The image below, from Tim Schmit (NOAA/STAR), shows the three band 7 (3.9 µm) images, color-enhanced and magnified.  A similar image for band 6 (2.2 µm) is here.

GOES-17 ABI Band 3.9 µm imagery (Mesoscale Sector 1) at 0358 UTC (top), 0359 UTC (middle) and 0400 UTC (bottom) (click to enlarge)

Scott Bachmeier created this 6-channel (Bands 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 at 0.64 µm, 0.86µm, 1.37 µm, 1.61 µm, 2.25 µm and 3.9 µm, respectively) 3-step animation centered on the re-entry time.