On April 23, 2021, at 5:49 a.m, a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Their destination was the International Space Station (ISS), but while en route, they had a bit of a scare.
Futurism published a summation of what went down:
The launch went by without a hitch — but the crew of four did experience a scare while en route to the International Space Station when they were notified of a potential collision with an unidentified object.
“The NASA/SpaceX team was informed of the possible conjunction by US Space Command,” NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries told Futurism. “The object being tracked is classified as ‘unknown.’”
There was no time, Humphries said, to perform an avoidance maneuver to get out of the way of the object. Instead, SpaceX advised that the astronauts put on their pressurized suits in case of a collision.
Days later, the NY Post reported that the entire ordeal, was a “false alarm.”
A spokesman for the NASA Johnson Space Center said the warning of a possible collision was in fact based on a “false report.”
“Upon further analysis, Space Control determined the potential conjunction between the Crew-2 capsule and the object was a false report. There was never a collision threat to the Crew-Dragon, and the astronauts safely continued their mission,” NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries told The Post on Monday.
Now, The Black Vault has received internal documents through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from NASA, which detail more about the “false alarm.” It appears the entire saga could have been entirely avoided, as it was actually the fault of the Space Force, according to released documents.
One of those records, was an “internal use only” PowerPoint slide:
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One of the e-mails, written by NASA Flight Director Adi Boulos, outlined more details:
Space Force did not clear a fake analyst satellite from their catalog. SpaceX took action and had crew donn suits, we were not in an elevated risk of a conjunction.
At GMT 17:05, TOPO informed me that Endeavour has a very late notice conjunction with an unknown object with a TCA at 17:45. Initial reports indicated a miss distance of 1 km. TOPO requested updated state vectors from SpaceX which ended up being off the propagated state vectors by 7km. With the relatively close proximity to the PCA a DAM was not an option and SpaceX elected to have the crew Donn their suits while waiting for the TCA. TOPO ran the updated state vectors and reported that the miss distance was about 45km.
After the TCA passed TOPO was informed that the “unknown” object that we had a TCA with is in fact an analyst satellite that was inserted into the catalog for Space Force’s internal purposes. In other words, this object does not exist. Vincent is working on potential DMMT charts for this incident. Crew ended up staying up an extra 30ish minutes.
The entire batch of records released thus far are below, however, there are additional records being reviewed by SpaceX so they have an “opportunity to provide its input in accordance with Executive Order 12600,” as those responsive records (an untold number of them) could be proprietary. Those will be posted if/when released. (Proprietary information is exempt under the FOIA, hence the need for the review by SpaceX.)
Another e-mail of interest was written by NASA engineer, Bryan Corley. When asked about the incident, he makes reference to quite a few things happening on the mission, some of which may not have been made public.
NASA Released Documents [22 Pages, 1MB]