Lunar mystery: whose rocket is really about to crash on the moon?

There is an ongoing saga about the object crashing on the far side of the moon early next month. It was initially thought to be the upper stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the Earth observation spacecraft DSCOVR in February 2015, then it was thought to be a leftover from the launch of the Chinese Lunar Mission Chang’e 5-T1 in 2014.

During a press conference on Feb.21, however, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that cannot be the case, as the Chang’e 5-T1 upper stage burned out completely in Earth’s atmosphere shortly after takeoff. But the person who spearheaded the discovery of the impending lunar impact, which is expected to occur on March 4, doesn’t believe China’s claim. According to Bill Gray, who runs the Project Pluto software used to track objects close to the Earth, there is a lot of evidence that would indicate that this is the Chang’e 5-T1 booster.

“We have a little mystery, as the US, the 18th Space Control Squadron, lists this booster (the same one I’m saying will hit the moon) as having instead hit Earth’s atmosphere in October 2015, almost a year after. launch, ”Gray explained. “But the only trajectory data they provide is shortly after launch. If that is all they have had to work with, then the return date is a year in advance and is not particularly meaningful. “

It’s kind of like trying to predict the weather a year in advance, Gray added. “But this particular error didn’t involve the tracking data,” he told Inside Outer Space. “I think it just resulted in confusion about two similarly named missions.” These two would be Chang’e 5-T1, which sent a prototype of the champion’s return moon capsule on a trip around the moon, and Chang’e 5, which returned lunar samples to our planet in December 2020.

Photo credit –

“Basically, I don’t think 18SPCS tracked the object long after launch,” Gray said. “If they had, they probably would have published updated trajectory data.” Furthermore, during much of that year after launch, the Chang’e 5-T1 upper stage would be well beyond radar range. “So I very much doubt that 18SPCS was actually monitoring it,” said Gray. “But asteroid observers tracked it several times over the course of that year, and in subsequent years, so that I was able to say it would hit the moon in March.”

“Well, we should really do a better job of tracking these objects,” Gray concluded. “The first step would be to release ‘last known positions and speeds’ for objects that enter high Earth orbits or solar or lunar orbits. This would have avoided the initial identification problem, where I thought this was the upper stage of the DSCOVR ”.

The bottom line for Gray is the need for better tracking of high orbit objects. Meanwhile, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will monitor the lunar exosphere for any changes due to the March 4 impact and search for the crater in the months to come.

LRO “will not be able to observe the impact as it happens. However, the mission team is considering whether it is possible to make observations on any changes to the lunar environment associated with the impact and subsequently identify the crater formed by the impact, ”NASA officials said in a statement provided to Inside Outer Space.

“This unique event presents an exciting research opportunity,” they added. “After the impact, the mission can use its cameras to identify the impact site by comparing older images with images taken after the impact. The search for the impact crater will be challenging and could take weeks or months. “