Rocket Due to Crash Into the Moon Isn't From SpaceX

Expert says WE0913A is likely a Chinese rocket, launched in 2014
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 26, 2022 2:58 PM CST
Updated Feb 15, 2022 2:07 PM CST
Looks Like This Rocket Is About to Crash Into the Moon
In this Feb. 11, 2015, file photo, a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla.   (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Update: The space expert shouting about a rocket smashing into the moon says he made a big mistake. The item dubbed WE0913A is still projected to hit the dark side of the moon at 7:26am EST on March 4, but it's not the upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that failed to return to Earth after launching a weather satellite in 2015, reports the New York Times. Bill Gray, developer of astrometry software Project Pluto, says he wrongly assumed the trajectory of the Falcon 9 rocket. He adds orbital data strongly suggests the item is actually a Long March 3C rocket that China used to launch its Chang'e-5 T1 spacecraft on Oct. 23, 2014. Our original story from Jan. 26 follows:

It's been a "chaotic" seven-year drift, but one of SpaceX's rockets appears to soon be nearing the end of its journey, though its expected end also sounds like it may be chaotic. Per the Guardian, the Falcon 9 rocket that launched in Florida in February 2015 and has been floating in space since is now on a collision course with the moon. A hit could come in just weeks. The rocket had been part of a mission to send the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Deep Space Climate Observatory a million miles into space, but once the rocket had launched the weather satellite, it didn't have enough fuel to make its way back into Earth's atmosphere.

The nearly 9,000-pound spacecraft also didn't have enough power to pull away from the gravity system of the Earth and moon, so it instead "has been following a somewhat chaotic orbit since," per Ars Technica. In a blog post, astrometry software author Bill Gray—who studies the movements of asteroids, comets, and other celestial objects—predicts that the Falcon 9's upper stage will make a "certain impact" into the far side of the moon, near the equator, around March 4, at a velocity of about 1.6 miles per second.

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Gray does concede that predicting such things when it comes to space junk can be "a little tricky," though the "unpredictable" factors that could shift the rocket's trajectory are said to be small. He hopes to make more observations going into next month to help him refine his assessment. Inverse, meanwhile, notes the crash "could actually be good for science"; satellites currently orbiting the moon might be able to glean some valuable scientific data from the resulting impact crater. (More SpaceX stories.)

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