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

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Last January, said the upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket would collide with the Moon in early March. Predictably, the prediction sparked a flurry of criticism, much of it critical of Elon Musk and his private space company. After all, the event would be a rare misstep for SpaceX.

But it turns out Elon and company aren’t about to lose face. Instead, fate is more likely to befall China. That’s because Gray now says he made a mistake in his initial identification of a piece of space junk that 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 to deep orbit the same year. The identification of the object probably would not have been reported in the mainstream media if astronomers had not later discovered that it was about to collide with the Moon.

“In 2015, I (mis)identified this object as 2015-007B, the second stage of the DSCOVR spacecraft,” Gray said in a post he posted on Saturday that was spotted. . “I had pretty good circumstantial evidence for identification, but nothing conclusive,” Gray added. “It was not at all unusual. High-flying space junk identifications often require a bit of detective work, and sometimes we never find the identity of a bit of space junk.

We might never have known the real identity of the debris had it not been for the engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He contacted Gray on Saturday to ask about identification. According to Giorgini, NASA’s Horizons system, 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. brought close to the Moon. As such, it would be unusual for its second stage to then veer off course and strike the satellite. Giorgini’s email prompted Gray to re-examine the data he had used to make the initial identification.

Gray now says he is reasonably certain the rocket that is about to collide with the moon belongs to China. In October 2014, the country’s space agency launched its Chang’e 5-T1 mission on a Long March 3C rocket. After piecing together the probable trajectory of this mission, he discovered that the Long March 3C was the best fit for the mysterious object that is about to strike Earth’s natural satellite. “Returning to orbit to launch the Chinese spacecraft makes perfect sense,” he said. . “It ends with an orbit that passes the Moon at the right time after launch.”

Gray went on to say The edge this episodes like this highlight the need for more information about rocket boosters traveling through deep space. “The only people I know who pay attention to these old rocket boosters are the asteroid tracking community,” he told the outlet. “That sort of thing would be considerably easier if people launching spacecraft — if there was a regulatory environment where they had to report something.”

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