May 17, 2022

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The rocket that will hit the moon is not from SpaceX

The rocket that will hit the moon is not from SpaceX

A view of the Chinese missile booster - not the second stage of the Falcon 9 - as seen from an observatory in Italy on February 6, 2022

A view of the Chinese missile booster – not the second stage of the Falcon 9 – as seen from an observatory in Italy on February 6, 2022
picture: The Virtual Telescope Project / Gianluca Massi

A new look at the available evidence suggests that a Chinese rocket will hit the moon early March — and Not SpaceX Falcon 9 Phase Two as it was Previously thought. Experts say it’s an “upright mistake” and a sign that better processes are needed to track our junk into space.

us first mentioned In this story in late January, As did many other media. The fact that the booster SpaceX Falcon 9 was on a collision course with the Moon has attracted widespread attention, including live broadcasts. webcast To capture our final view of the neglected booster. A safety expert with the European Space Agency also knock in“The upcoming impact on the Falcon 9 moon demonstrates well the need for a comprehensive regulatory regime in space,” he said.

It turns out that all this fuss was directed at the wrong thing. Bill Gray, developer of Project Pluto, a software program for tracking near-Earth objects, asteroids, comets, and other things in space, now Says It’s a Chinese booster from Chang’e 5-T1 mission And not the Falcon 9 booster as it is Tell world last month. It’s an unfortunate mistake, but also understandable, according to Dedicated The way these things are identified and indexed.

As Gray explained in his corrective notes, John Giorgini, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), was the first to alert him to the potential error. JPL does not track space junk, but tracks active spacecraft, including Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), which blasted off into space seven years ago atop an embroiled Falcon 9 rocket. Giorgini Gray reported that DSCOVR’s trajectory was not close to the Moon, so the booster rocket is unlikely to reach the lunar surface.

This prompted Gray to go back and check his results, as he had originally identified this object as a Falcon 9 booster in 2015. Catalina Sky Survey astronomers discovered the originally unknown object, giving it the placeholder designation WE0913A. Gray looked into it shortly thereafter, and concluded that it was very likely related to NOAA’s DSCOVR mission. As he wrote on Saturday:

More data confirmed that yes, WE0913A passed the moon two days after DSCOVR launch, and I and others have come to accept the identification with the second stage as true. The object was about the brightness we expect, appeared at the expected time and moved in a reasonable orbit.

Basically, I had very good circumstantial evidence for identification, but nothing conclusive. It wasn’t unusual at all. Recognizing high-flying space junk often requires a little investigative work, and sometimes, we never understand the identifier for a bit of space junk; There are a few unidentified junk out there. (At least, it has not yet been determined.)

With the Falcon 9 booster ruled out, Gray looked at previous space missions that might explain the object, which led him to boost from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission. The associated Long March 3C rocket launched on October 23, 2014, sending a small spacecraft to the Moon in preparation for a future lunar sample return mission.

Gray provided the relevant evidence, but “in short, it quite appears that the Chinese lunar mission should consider everything separately,” he wrote. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, provided further evidence in the form of orbital data relating to radio cubes that traveled throughout the flight. With this combined data, Gray wrote: “I am convinced that the object about to hit the Moon on March 4 2022 at 12:25 UTC is in fact the stage of the Chang’e 5-T1 rocket.”

McDowell described it as a “frank error” in A RWet, saying that the incident “confirms the problem of the lack of proper tracking of these deep space objects.” I contacted him and asked him for clarification.

“Well, it would be a good start for some of the official organizations that have money – maybe NASA or the European Space Agency, or the UN’s Cobos. [the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space]”To decide this was something to do,” McDowell replied in an email. “Then assign at least one person to do this, or parts of several.”

He would also like to see a UN recommendation in which countries make their deep space orbital data (ie the last known vector of a country) publicly available for their space junk. Such data could be provided directly to the United Nations, for example, McDowell said.

The Long March 3C booster doesn’t put life or equipment at risk, but McDowell’s point is well taken – we need to know what’s out there and who it belongs to. Accountability is important, especially now that we’ve launched more rockets into space than ever before Date. Which reminds me, there is still a careless hawk 9- The booster is floating somewhere in space. Rumors of her impending death were greatly exaggerated, so we may not have heard of the other.

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