Special Report

The 10 Largest Spacecrafts to Crash Back to Earth

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

10. Proton-4
> Reentry Weight: 17 tons
> Re-entry location: Unknown
> Date of crash: July 24, 1969

Proton 4 was the heaviest of four Proton satellites launched by Russia from 1965 to 1968, all of which crashed back to earth at unknown locations. The Proton program launched research satellites and is considered to have played a key role in heralding a new era of Soviet space exploration.

Source: sdasmarchives / Flickr

9. Saturn SA-5 rocket
> Reentry Weight: 17.2 tons
> Re-entry location: Brazil
> Date of crash: April 30, 1966

The Saturn SA-5 was part of the U.S. Apollo program, an orbital test rocket wielding a Jupiter nose cone containing measuring instruments instead of the Apollo command module that would later be used to send American astronauts into space. The Saturn SA-5 orbited for nearly 800 days before decaying into an uncontrolled re-entry.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

8. Kosmos-557
> Reentry Weight: 18.5 tons
> Re-entry location: Indian Ocean
> Date of crash: May 22, 1973

Part of the Russian Salyut space station program that put six crewed stations in orbit from 1971 to 1986, Kosmos 557 was later revealed to be a code name for a Salyut program station that failed to reach a stable orbit due to errors in the flight control system. Despite this failure, the Salyut program became another achievement for Russia’s space program, as it was the first to put a crewed space station in orbit.

7. CZ-5B-Y3 (Long March 5B) core stage
> Reentry Weight: 21.3 tons
> Re-entry location: Sarawak, Malaysia
> Date of crash: July 30, 2022

CZ-5B-Y3 was the most recent of three uncontrolled reentries of massive Chinese Long March B core rocket stages that have plunged back to earth since 2020. In an indirect reference to China’s unwillingness to share data on the rocket’s descent trajectory, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson urged nations with space programs to “do their part to share this type of information in advance to allow reliable predictions of potential debris impact risk…to ensure the safety of people here on Earth.”

6. CZ-5B-Y2 (Long March 5B) core stage
> Reentry Weight: 21.3 tons
> Re-entry location: Indian Ocean, west of the Maldives
> Date of crash: May 9, 2021

CZ-5B-Y2 is the second of three massive Chinese Long March 5B rocket stages to have crashed uncontrollably to earth since 2020 after re-entering the atmosphere above the Arabian Peninsula. Long March 5B missions have been sending payloads to China’s Tiangong space station, which is expected to be online by the end of the year.

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