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A Giant Leap for Tresco


Tresco's collection of shipwrecked figureheads in the Valhalla Collection may be world famous, but the island hit the headline for an entirely different sort of shipwreck in November.

Winter for folk on Tresco is usually a time to pause, take a deep breath and reflect on another Scillonian year gone by. It is certainly not a time we would expect to be making international news headlines, but the tranquil remoteness of a Tresco winter was shattered briefly in November when part of a space rocket founds its way to our island shores.

On Thursday 26th November - Thanksgiving Day in the USA - Scilly received a very special gift from the New World in the form of a 32 foot long piece of debris from a Space-X rocket, launched in 2014 on a supply mission to the International Space Station.

Tresco Boats skipper Joe Thomas made the discovery in Tresco Channel, near Cromwell's Castle.

"I spotted a flock of gulls in the water, feeding off something," recalls Joe. "As I got closer the gulls disappeared and I soon realised that what I had initially suspected to be a dead whale was anything but!"

The piece of wreckage was towed to the shelter of New Grimsby harbour with the help of the Coastguard and the islands' supply vessel the Lyonesse as it represented a hazard to shipping.

Covered in Goose Barnacles, it was initially feared the debris may have been from an aeroplane and the barnacles were removed to aid identification. Incredibly the first section of the wreckage to be cleared of Barnacles was the part emblazoned with the American flag and the logo of the Falcon 9 space vehicles.

Overnight the story went viral, featuring on hundreds of news websites and television news channels across the globe. Our boatman Joe found himself being interviewed for the likes of the BBC, ITV, CNN, ABC and the Discovery Channel.

The Origin of the Tresco Rocket

The discovery that the wreckage was from the Space-X Falcon 9 family of rockets was just the start of the mystery. The vehicles have been used in around 20 launches to date, so how had the rocket ended up on Scilly?

For days the mystery rumbled on, with amateurs and experts from across the globe speculating as to the origin of the rocket fragment on online forums.

Initially, it was thought the debris originated from a launch in June 2015 when the unmanned rocket had exploded on launch.

However, Space-X confirmed on 1st December that the fragment of rocket found on Tresco was not, in fact, from that failed mission.

Instead, the Scilly space debris is from a successful mission which took to the sky in September 2014. The Falcon 9 CRS-4 mission was a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. The mission was delivering equipment and supplies to the space station, including the first 3D printer to be tested in space, a device to measure wind speed on Earth, and small satellites to be launched from the station. The mission also delivered 20 mice to the ISS for long-term research onboard.

The vessel docked with the ISS on 23rd September 2014 and the interstage part of the rocket - part of which ended up on Tresco - landed in the Atlantic Ocean and was delivered to Scilly by ocean currents.

The Future of the Tresco Rocket

At present the future of the Tresco Rocket is undecided. There are a number of possibilities, including the flight hardware being returned to Space X for analysis, remaining on Scilly, or being taken elsewhere.

As soon as we have an update we will let you know!

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