A piece of space debris scheduled to smash into the moon in early March might not be a SpaceX rocket after all.
According to the latest developments Sent by astronomer Bill Graywho wrote the Project Pluto software used to track near-Earth objects, the object on a collision course is not the stage of the discarded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but the stage of the Chinese Long March 3C rocket.
The object is called WE0913A, and whatever its identity, its calculated path remains valid. You must collide with the far side of the moon On March 4, 2022, around 12:25 PM UTC.
The original misidentification of WE0913A was made in 2015, after a SpaceX rocket launched a NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite into Earth orbit. It is usual for rocket stages to be abandoned in space after their payloads have been delivered; Generally, they are designed to eventually de-orbit, and burn up when they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
WE0913A was first spotted in 2015, and was originally thought to be asteroid. Gray identified it after he discovered that WE0913A had crossed the moon two days after the DSCOVR mission launched, connecting the dots.
However, when it was discovered that WE0913A was destined to collide with the moon, and this news spread, someone noticed something amiss. John Giorgini at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which tracks active spacecraft, noted that DSCOVR’s orbit is nowhere near the moon. This raised questions about how the rocket passed the moon two days after launch.
“It would be a little strange for the second phase to pass right after the moon, while DSCOVR was in another part of the sky. There is always some separation, but this was suspiciously large,” Gray explained.
When Giorgini reached out to him, Gray reverted to his original calculations… only to discover that the object was unlikely to be at the stage of a SpaceX rocket after all.
“In hindsight, I should have noticed some strange things about WE0913A’s orbit,” It is to explain. “Assuming there were no maneuvers, it would have been in a somewhat strange orbit around the Earth before hovering over the Moon. At its highest point, it would be near the Moon’s orbit; and at its lowest point (perihelion), about a third of that distance. We had expected Perigee being near the surface of the Earth. The perihelion seemed very high.”
Returning to the drawing board to see what the object could be, it collided with an object called-02-2015 This expedition started on October 23, 2014; Neglected boost stage later disappear.
Gray calculated the expected post-launch lunar flyby, and discovered that WE0913A was to fly close to the moon on October 28, 2014, at an altitude expected to go to the moon.
Extrapolating back, Gray said, this matches up exactly with the launch time and trajectory of the Long March 3C missile.
In a sense, this remains ‘virtual’ evidence. He said.
“But I would consider it fairly convincing evidence. So 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.”