China, not SpaceX, may be behind moon rocket crash

March 4, a piece of man-made rocket trash go smack into the moon . But it turns out that it is not, as already stated in a number of re...

March 4, a piece of man-made rocket trash go smack into the moon.

But it turns out that it is not, as already stated in a number of reports, including by The New York TimesElon Musk’s SpaceX which will be responsible for creating a crater on the lunar surface.

Instead, the cause is likely a piece of a rocket launched by China’s space agency.

Last month, Bill Gray, developer of Project Pluto, a suite of astronomical software used to calculate the orbits of asteroids and comets, announced that the upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was on a trajectory that would intersect the trajectory of the moon. . The rocket had launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on February 11, 2015.

Mr Gray had been tracking this rocket part for years, and in early January it passed within 6,000 miles of the moon’s surface, and the moon’s gravity swung it into a trajectory that looked like it might s crash into a later orbit.

Observations by amateur astronomers as the object passed Earth again confirmed the impending impact inside Hertzsprung, a 315-mile-wide ancient crater.

But an email on Saturday from Jon Giorgini, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, changed that.

Mr. Giorgini runs Horizons, an online database that can generate locations and orbits for the nearly 1.2 million objects in the solar system, including about 200 spacecraft. A Horizons user asked Mr. Giorgini how certain he was that the object was part of the DSCOVR rocket. “It prompted me to look into the matter,” Mr. Giorgini said.

He found that the orbit was incompatible with the trajectory taken by DSCOVR and contacted Mr. Gray.

“My initial thought was, I’m pretty sure I got it right,” Mr Gray said on Sunday.

But he started digging through his old emails to remember when this object was first spotted in March 2015, about a month after DSCOVR launched.

Almost every new object spotted in the sky is an asteroid, and that was the assumption for this object as well. He received the designation WE0913A.

However, WE0913A turned out to be orbiting the Earth, not the Sun, which made it more likely to be something from Earth. Mr Gray added that he thought it could be part of the rocket that launched DSCOVR. Other data confirmed that WE0913A passed the moon two days after DSCOVR launch, which seemed to confirm the identification.

Mr Gray now realizes his mistake was thinking DSCOVR was launched on a trajectory to the moon and using its gravity to slew the spacecraft to its final destination about a million miles from Earth where the spacecraft warns of incoming solar storms.

But, as Mr. Giorgini pointed out, DSCOVR was actually launched on a direct trajectory that didn’t go past the moon.

“I really wish I had looked at that” before releasing his January announcement, Mr. Gray said. “But yeah, once Jon Giorgini pointed it out, it became pretty clear that I was really wrong.”

SpaceX, which did not respond to a request for comment, never said WE0913A was not its rocket stage. But he probably didn’t follow it either. Most of the time, the second stage of a Falcon 9 is pushed back into the atmosphere to burn up. In this case, the rocket needed all of its propellant to deliver DSCOVR to its faraway destination.

However, the unpowered and uncontrolled second stage was in an orbit unlikely to endanger satellites, and people probably did not track it.

“It would be great if the people putting these boosters into high orbit would publicly disclose what they put up there and where they were going rather than having to do all this detective work,” Gray said.

But if it wasn’t the DSCOVR rocket, what was it? Mr Gray sifted through other launches in previous months, focusing on those headed for the moon. “There isn’t much in that category,” Mr. Gray said.

The top candidate was a Long March 3C rocket that launched China’s Chang’e-5 T1 spacecraft on October 23, 2014. This spacecraft circled the moon and returned to Earth, dropping off a small return capsule that landed in Mongolia. It was a test leading up to the Chang’e-5 mission in 2020 which successfully picked up lunar rocks and dust and brought them back to Earth for study.

Running a computer simulation of WE0913A’s orbit through time showed it would have made a close lunar flyby on October 28, five days after the Chinese launch.

Additionally, orbital data from a cubesat that was attached to the third stage of the Long March rocket “is pretty much a lookalike” of WE0913A, Gray said. “It’s the kind of case you could probably take to a jury and get a conviction.”

Further sightings this month have moved the prediction of when the object will hit the moon by seconds and miles to the east. “It always looks the same,” said Christophe Demeautis, an amateur astronomer from northeast France.

There’s still no chance he’ll miss the moon.

The crash will occur around 7:26 a.m. Eastern Time, but because the impact will occur on the far side of the moon, it will be out of sight of Earth’s telescopes and satellites.

As for what happened to that part of Falcon 9, “we’re still trying to figure out where the DSCOVR second stage might be,” Gray said.

The best guess is that it ended up orbiting the sun instead of Earth, and it could still be there. That would put him out of sight for now. There is a precedent for the return of pieces of old rockets: in 2020, a mysterious object recently discovered turned out to be part of a rocket launched in 1966 for NASA’s Surveyor robotic missions to the Moon.

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Newsrust - US Top News: China, not SpaceX, may be behind moon rocket crash
China, not SpaceX, may be behind moon rocket crash
Newsrust - US Top News
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