The part of the rocket, which is expected to crash on the moon on March 4, does not come from Elon Musk’s Space-X space program (50). Researchers have now found that. Instead, it is said to be a Chinese launch vehicle propulsion stage.
In late January, American astronomer Bill Gray announced that a booster rocket stage would hit the Moon. The part is a kind of fuel tank that the rockets expel during their journey.
The software Gray developed can be used to track smaller asteroids, planets and space debris that are close to Earth. Gray had also noticed the conspicuous piece of space junk that will soon reach the moon. The astronomer first noticed the piece of debris in his software in 2015, incorrectly as part of Space-X’s Falcon 9 rocket.
On his blog, Gray writes: “I had relatively good circumstantial evidence for this identification, but no proof. This is not unusual in this field. Identifying high-flying space debris often requires detective work. Sometimes we couldn’t even match a scrap part.” However, looking back, you should have noticed some inconsistencies in the part’s trajectory.
On February 12, 2022, Gray received an email from NASA engineer Jon Giorgini of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Among other things, the trajectories of the Space-X rockets are monitored there. Giorgini noted that the Falcon 9 rocket’s trajectory was too far from the moon. The junk that will crash on the moon couldn’t have come from one of Elon Musk’s rockets.
Gray double-checked his calculations and determined that the debris must have come from a rocket launched before 2015. Gray: “Also, they had to follow a high orbit that took them past the moon.” But: only a few rockets take that course. Consequently, the culprit could be quickly identified.
Gray now believes the scrap is a burned-out stage from a Chinese Long March launch vehicle. The rocket was launched as a lunar probe on October 23, 2014 in China and flew to the moon. The probe flies once around the moon and then returns to Earth. The re-entry of a rocket into the Earth’s atmosphere is tested.
The special feature: The booster stage, which is launched on this trajectory, initially flies in a wide arc around the moon, but can hit it again years later. According to the original calculations, this piece of junk will reach the Moon at an impressive speed of 2.58 kilometers per second. That’s around 9,300 km/h. There it will make a small dent in the surface of the moon, but otherwise do no further damage.
But the impact also has a good thing: the observation satellites must point precisely at the point of impact. Space researchers hope to gain insight into the layers of material that lie beneath the moon’s surface.
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