Don’t blame SpaceX for that rocket on a collision course with the Moon

Deepak Gupta February 13, 2022
Updated 2022/02/13 at 8:58 PM

This past January, said the upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket would collide with the Moon sometime in early March. As you might expect, the forecast unleashed a flurry of , largely criticizing Elon Musk and his private space company. After all, the event would be a rare misstep for SpaceX.

But it turns out that Elon and company aren’t about to lose face. Instead, fate is more likely to fall on China. That’s because Gray now says he made a mistake in his initial identification of a piece of space debris he and other astronomers dubbed WE0913A in 2015.

When Gray and his colleagues first spotted the object, several clues led them to believe it was the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket that carried the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite into deep orbit that same year. The identification of the object would likely have gone unnoticed in the mainstream media had astronomers not later discovered that it was about to collide with the Moon.

“In 2015, I (mistakenly) identified this object as 2015-007B, the second stage of the DSCOVR spacecraft,” Gray said in a statement. he published on Saturday that he was seen . “I had very good circumstantial evidence for identification, but nothing conclusive,” Gray added. “That was nothing unusual. High-flying space junk identifications often require a bit of detective work, and sometimes we never discover the identification of a little space junk.”

We may never have known the real identity of the debris if it weren’t for the engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. . He contacted Gray on Saturday to ask about identification. According to Giorgini, NASA’s Horizons system, a which can estimate the location and orbit of nearly half a million celestial bodies in our solar system, showed that the trajectory of the DSCOVR spacecraft did not bring it close to the Moon. As such, it would be unusual for its second stage to deviate from course and hit the satellite. . Giorgini’s email prompted Gray to reexamine the data she used to make the initial identification.

Gray now says he is reasonably certain that the rocket that is about to crash into the moon belongs to China. In October 2014, the country’s space agency launched its Change 5-T1 mission on a Long March 3C rocket. After reconstructing the likely trajectory of that mission, he found that the Long March 3C is best suited for the mystery object that is about to hit Earth’s natural satellite. “Running the orbit back to launch the Chinese spacecraft makes perfect sense,” he said. . “It ends up with an orbit that passes the Moon at the right time after launch.”

Gray went on to count On the edge at that Episodes like this underscore the need for more information about rocket boosters that travel into deep space. “The only people I know who pay attention to these old rockets are the asteroid tracking community,” he told the channel. “This sort of thing would be considerably easier if people launching spacecraft – if there was some regulatory environment where they had to report something.”

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