Last month, just off the coast of Cayman Brac, fishermen discovered debris from a Russian rocket. Early Wednesday morning, stargazers may get a glimpse of a satellite launched from that same rocket.
Brothers Tyrone and Larry Scott made the unusual find of a sheet of floating metal, that turned out to be part of the ‘payload fairings’ from a Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana in December.
Tiyen Miller, vice president of the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society, said the largest satellite from that launch would be visible from all three islands just after 5am Wednesday.
“It is fascinating that we can see one part of the same rocket in the water off the Brac one day and another part sailing across the heavens the next week,” he said.
“It may be a bit tough to spot due to the coming dawn, but if you look due east at 5:16 tomorrow morning, you can see the satellite tracking from right to left as a tiny point of light.”
He said satellites are only visible when illuminated by the sun reflecting off them.
“You only see them relatively near sunrise or sunset, when they are still lit up by the sun because they are several hundred miles above us, yet we are in the dark,” he said.
“Don’t be shocked if you see a satellite disappear as it sails across the sky – it’s just going into Earth’s shadow.”
This satellite is part of the Italian radar system and orbits 385 miles above the Earth. It is one of five satellites launched from a space centre on the French territory, located on the northeastern tip of South America.
Wreckage from the payload fairings, a protective shell covering the satellites, from that launch was what the Scott brothers stumbled across while fishing off the Brac.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, recognised the logos on the debris as belonging to a space programme and a quick web search helped him trace the exact rocket it had come from.
The only recent launch of an ANGELS nano-satellite involving the French company Hemeria group – the two names that appear on the debris – was a Russian-made Soyuz rocket that lifted off in December 2019.
Nicholas Multan, CEO of Hemeria, told the Cayman Compass in an email he was astonished by the find.
“We are very surprised to have discovered that a debris from the Soyuz launcher, used during the launch of our nanosatellite last December 18, was floating into the open sea.”
He said the launch of the ANGELS nano-satellite was a first for the company and for the country.
Multan said he was relieved that no one had been hurt by the falling debris.
“We are very concerned about the environment and committed to an eco-friendly approach, so we will do everything to ensure that we recover the remaining debris and then bring it back to our premises in Toulouse,” he said.
The satellite has instruments on board that collect data from 20,000 beacons across the world with the aim of safeguarding resources and the environment, he added.
The fishermen did not collect the debris as they were unaware what it was when they spotted it off the Brac.
Tyrone Scott, who made the find with his brother Larry, previously told the Compass, “I am sorry I didn’t bring it in. I had a 25-foot boat and we were about 300 yards from the bay, so I probably could have towed it.”
Tyrone said the debris was floating southwest and was probably headed towards Grand Cayman. “Maybe the helicopter can spot it,” he said.