A large piece of debris discovered on an Outer Banks beach in North Carolina was recently identified as a rocket part belonging to SpaceX, the private space company run by Elon Musk.
As reported by CTV News, the rocket debris — a sizeable sheet of metal measuring 10 feet by 6 feet (3 meters by 2 meters) — washed up on Ocracoke Island on October 14.
The chunk of metal was later discovered to have come from one of SpaceX’s rockets — with the private space company confirming that the debris is indeed “rocket hardware,” per a report by National Park Service officials.
“It’s being handled appropriately,” Chief Ranger Boone Vandzura of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore told The Charlotte Observer.
The rocket part was found on Sunday by a North Carolina couple from Currituck. Chris Charlton and his wife Angie Chris Langdon stumbled upon the metal debris near Ramp 67, a popular tourist site in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
According to park officials, some sections of the rocket part were so heavy that a front-end loader was required to remove the metal sheet from the beach, notes CBS News.
The provenance of the debris was established after National Park Service sent inquiries to the U.S. Coast Guard and to SpaceX, which identified the serial numbers on the metal sheet and confirmed it belonged to one of their rockets on Monday afternoon.
— Charlotte NewsChan (@_Charlotte_NC) October 16, 2018
While SpaceX did identify the debris as rocket hardware, the private space company didn’t reveal which type of rocket the metal sheet came from or the launch date of the vehicle.
As for how the rocket part ended up on the Outer Banks beach, Charlton and his wife believe that Tropical Storm Michael may have had something to do with it. The couple speculates that the chunk of metal could have been pushed ashore by a storm surge caused by the tropical storm.
The Outer Banks were recently hit by two violent storms — Hurricane Florence and Tropical Storm Michael — both of which caused flooding to coastal counties and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This type of flooding is known to clutter beaches with debris and may have also washed ashore the collection of World War II projectiles found on Topsail Island on September 30.
This is not the first time that a SpaceX rocket section ends up on an Outer Banks beach. Last October, a 15-foot-long chunk of metal discovered on a beach near Hatteras Village turned out to have come from a SpaceX rocket. The piece of debris was identified by the Virginian-Pilot as belonging to a rocket nose cone that got jettisoned after launch.