Video Shows Russian Satellite Falling to Earth in Fireball Over Michigan

A fireball that lit up the sky over the eastern U.S. on Wednesday was actually a falling Russian surveillance satellite.

The trail of Kosmos-2551 was spotted from Harrisville, Pennsylvania, to Streator, Illinois, with a total of 153 witness reports filed with the American Meteor Society (AMS). It lit up the sky as a fireball at around 12:43 a.m. EDT, October 20.

The organization received 12 videos and 13 photos of the fireball, logging them, though it was not a natural event. One of the observers who caught the event on video was Chris Johnson. His footage shows the blazing satellite streaking over Fort Garrett, Michigan.

The northernmost reporter of the event, which has been designated AMS event #6746-2021, was Garrett S in Harbor Springs, Michigan. He told the AMS: "I know it was a Russian satellite. But wanted to report. Appears I'm the farthest north so far to observe it.

"It was really breaking up when I saw it."

The reentry of the satellite was also spotted in Canada. Stephen P. of Renton, Ontario, reported: "I was driving home from work and only noticed it because it was leaving a streak behind it with little chunks of it breaking off."

On NASA's Meteor Watch Facebook Page the space agency identified the fireball as the result of a falling satellite. "There are many accounts from the midwestern states of a bright long-lasting fireball seen around 12:43 am EDT last evening (wee hours of October 20)," NASA said. "This event was not caused by a natural object; it was produced by the reentry and fragmentation of a satellite over that area of the country."

The AMS identified the satellite as Kosmos-2551, with an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Jonathan McDowell, confirming details surrounding the identification on Twitter.

He wrote: "The fireball network confirms that the event seen in Michigan was at 0443 UTC (12:43 EDT) which is the exact predicted time Kosmos-2551 passed over the region and within the reentry time uncertainty window given by Space Force. So I conclude that the ID with Kosmos-2551 is solid."

The fireball network confirms that the event seen in Michigan was at 0443 UTC (1243EDT) which is the exact predicted time Kosmos-2551 passed over the region, and within the reentry time uncertainty window given by Space Force. So I conclude that the ID with Kosmos-2551 is solid https://t.co/o5rfiNEEzm

— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) October 20, 2021

The Kosmos-2551 Razbeg reconnaissance satellite—a new type of Earth-imaging satellite for the Russian military—was launched from the Plesetsk military launch site in Northern Russia, aboard a Soyuz 2-1v rocket, at 3:59 pm on September 9.

The launch failed, Seradata Space Intelligence reported, leaving the satellite in a low-orbit with it struggling to climb to its intended 108-mile altitude above Earth. Instead, the Earth-imaging satellite's original orbit began to quickly decay and it failed to hold altitude.

On October 19 McDowell accurately predicted the Russian satellite's reentry: "It now seems certain that Russia's recently launched Kosmos-2551 spy satellite is a failure - it has not adjusted its orbit since launch on Sep 9 and is expected to reenter tomorrow."

The astrophysicist added yesterday that it was unlikely that any debris from the relatively small satellite would reach the ground. "It is thought to be only about 500 kg and no debris is expected to reach the ground."

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A screenshot from a video showing a fireball streaking through the sky over Michigan shot by Stanley Waldrup. The fireball was the reentry of Russian satellite Kosmos-2551. Stanley Waldrup/ASM