China: Rocket Set to Crash Into Moon Isn't Ours

Experts disagree, say Chang'e-5T1 booster will make impact March 4
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 23, 2022 6:45 AM CST
China: Moonbound Rocket Isn't Ours
The moon rises in the Yanqing district of Beijing on Feb. 15, 2022.   (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

China is denying responsibility for a wayward rocket expected to crash into the far side of the moon next month. Though the rocket was initially misidentified as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that failed to return to Earth after launching a weather satellite in 2015, experts—including those at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies—are pretty sure the object is a booster used to launch China's Chang'e-5 T1 spacecraft in 2014. Asked to confirm on Monday, however, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a denial. "According to China's monitoring, the upper stage of the rocket related to the Chang'e-5 mission entered into Earth's atmosphere and completely burned up," spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press conference, per

But astrometry software developer Bill Gray, credited with discovering the moonbound rocket, thinks there's a misunderstanding. "I think the Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply got two different, but similarly named, lunar missions mixed up," he wrote on his blog Monday. He noted Wang referred to the "Chang'e-5" mission, which launched in November 2020. A booster did indeed re-enter Earth's atmosphere about a week later. The Chang'e-5 T1 launch in 2014, to which Gray is referring, had been a precursor to that later mission. The strange thing is that tracking data from the US Space Force's 18th Space Control Squadron indicates the object that launched in 2014 and is now expected to crash into the moon "instead hit the earth's atmosphere in October 2015," Gray writes.

"But the only trajectory data they provide are for shortly after launch. If that's all they had to work with, then the re-entry date is a prediction a year ahead of time and is not particularly meaningful." He adds the Space Force focuses on objects that are close to Earth and for much of 2014, "the Chang'e-5T1 booster would have been well beyond the range of radar." As of now, he's sure the object expected to crash into the moon on March 4 is the Chinese rocket stage. And he's sure of one other thing: That as more spacecraft reach for the moon, "simply ignoring the issue [of high-flying space junk], as has been (mostly) the policy to date, shouldn't be an option." As Science reports, there are 23,000 known debris items of at least 12 inches orbiting our planet, and up to 100 million fragments. (More space stories.)

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