Space.com introduces a new wrinkle in the growing space-junk problem. There’s so much stuff flying around us, we’re no longer sure where it came from or how long it’s been there. We do know that somebody’s old rocket is about to slam into the dark side of the moon:
First thought to be the upper stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the DSCOVR Earth-observation spacecraft in February 2015, it was then tagged as a leftover from the launch of China’s Chang’e 5-T1 lunar mission in 2014. During a press briefing on Feb. 21, however, China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that cannot be the case, as the Chang’e 5-T1 upper stage burned up completely in Earth’s atmosphere shortly after liftoff.
But the person who led the discovery of the coming lunar impact, which is predicted to occur on the far side on March 4, isn’t buying China’s claim.
“There really is no good reason at this point to think the object is anything other than the Chang’e 5-T1 booster,” Bill Gray, who manages the Project Pluto software used to track near-Earth objects, told Inside Outer Space.
All of this confusion raises a flag in Gray’s view.
“Well, we should indeed do a better job of tracking these objects,” he said. “First step would be to release ‘last known positions and velocities’ for objects going into high Earth orbits or solar or lunar orbits. That would have avoided the initial identification issue, where I thought this was the DSCOVR upper stage.”
The bottom line for Gray is the need for better tracking of high-orbiting objects.
Meanwhile, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will monitor the moon’s exosphere for any changes due to the March 4 impact, and it will look for the crater in the months to come.