The multi-ton payload that defense officials had claimed was attached to a Chinese spy balloon that floated across North America earlier this month looked like a oversized, suspended satellite, according to a photo released by the Pentagon on Wednesday.
The image, taken from the cockpit of an Air Force U-2 spy plane, shows two large panels dangling from a balloon several times larger than the payload itself.
“The majority of the balloon, including the payload, was recovered,” Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said during a briefing Wednesday in which she confirmed the photo’s authenticity.
The image first made the internet rounds on Tuesday via journalist Chris Pocock on his U-2 news site. CNN first reported Feb. 8 that the photo existed.
Defense officials said the surveillance equipment suspended from the balloon, which the Pentagon said earlier this month belonged to the Chinese government, was designed to spy on sensitive U.S. military sites. It resulted in a 1,500 square meter debris field after an Air Force F-22 shot it down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4.
Navy and Coast Guard assets finished clean-up on Thursday, transferring debris to the FBI for further analysis.
Three more unidentified objects floated into North American air space in the following weeks, though none were identified as balloons or confirmed to belong to another country.
The military abandoned recovery efforts last week for those shot down near Alaska and over Lake Huron after it became clear the missiles used to down them left behind no detectable debris.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.