Space junk from the latest de-orbit of a likely Russian satellite could wash up on Hawke's Bay beaches.

Napier Planetarium curator Gary Sparks said the satellite that came down over the weekend was likely to have joined the watery graves of other pieces of space junk off the East Coast.

"It certainly looked like it was an intentional de-orbit as per the usual routine, which perhaps came down a tad earlier. That's why we saw it over us, you usually wouldn't see that sort of thing unless you were way off the coast somewhere," he said.

Judging from the reports he received, Sparks said it was heading in an easterly direction.


It could be a few years before any debris was washed up on Hawke's Bay shores, he said.

"From the footage I saw, it looked like it was breaking up quite a bit, it was breaking into a lot of small pieces, there's less chance that anything would survive, it usually takes something pretty big where some of it will make some sort of impact.

"Bits of a rocket booster or parts of a space station are more likely. The satellite was probably about the size of a washing machine as opposed to something that's 15 metres long and 3m in diameter."

Sparks said he received about four calls a year about strange flying objects, which often turn out to be Chinese lanterns, aeroplanes that" don't appear to be moving but actually are", or oddly shaped drones.

He earlier reported that the East Coast of New Zealand was right in the firing line for space organisations to divert their orbiting rubbish, as it was one of the largest uninhabited places on the surface of the earth.

"There's a guy here in town that has over 400 pieces of a single spacecraft that splashed down not far off the coast here, many years ago."

The find was so fascinating, that it prompted a visit by a specialist from Nasa who attempted to identify which space craft it might have been from.

Sparks said a woman based in Tutira also approached him after finding a strange object on her farm.


"Nasa weren't interested in that discovery, but we X-rayed it and it looked like a whole section of solar panels.

"Usually when they launch something like that it's all folded up, then they unfurl in space. Before they re-enter them, they furl them back up again with the idea that there will be less pieces hurling back."

The solar panels fell back through Earth's atmosphere with all the silicon from the panels melted into a "blob".

"When we got it X-rayed, you could see the layers of where the pieces had folded in on one on the other. When you looked at the other side, it just looked like some grey melted plastic. It left a crater on their farm when it came down."