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WASHINGTON (AFP) – It wasn’t planned, but SpaceX will finally land on the Moon this year… though not in one piece. The second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket will crash on the lunar surface in March, according to astronomers who have recalculated the trajectory of the machine left in space since its launch seven years ago.
The rocket was used to orbit the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a climate observation satellite on Earth, in 2015.
Since then, the spacecraft’s second stage has been floating across the universe in an orbit dubbed “chaotic” by mathematicians because it’s difficult to predict, astronomer Bill Gray told AFP on Wednesday, who was the first to realize the new trajectory.
The object passed close enough to the Moon in early January, which changed its orbit, detailed the creator of “Project Pluto”, a software for calculating the trajectories of asteroids and other objects, used by NASA-funded Program overview.
A week later, the specialist was able to observe the rocket fragment again, and realized that it must have crashed on the far side of the Moon on March 4.
After appeals to amateur astronomers to make additional observations, the data were confirmed.
This vehicle will hit the surface of the moon at a speed of more than 9,000 km / h.
The exact time and location can still vary by a few minutes and kilometers, as sunlight has a hardly predictable effect on this hollow cylinder, pushing it in a noticeable way.
The rocket stage can be seen again in early February, and the estimate has been refined. But the collision is certain.
“I’ve been tracking space junk like this for almost 15 years, and this is the first unintended lunar impact,” Bill Gray said.
regulate space waste
According to astronomer Jonathan McDowell, it is possible that similar effects have occurred in the past, without our knowledge.
“In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s there have been at least 50 objects left in deep space, just there,” he told AFP.
Today’s philosophies haven’t found them all. “It’s likely that something hit the moon by mistake,” he said.
The object, weighing about four tons, will not be visible from Earth when it explodes next March.
But it is expected to produce a crater that can be seen later by scientists, including NASA’s LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) or Indian spacecraft, called Chandrayaan-2, and learn more about lunar geology.
Ships have been deliberately launched to the Moon for scientific purposes in the past, such as during the Apollo missions to test seismometers. In 2009, NASA sent a second-stage rocket to crash into an area near the lunar south pole to study the presence of water.
Many of SpaceX’s rockets are launched short distances, which typically allows the second stage to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, where it disintegrates over the ocean. The first floor is recovered and reused.
But according to Bill Gray, these unplanned lunar impacts could increase manifold in the future, especially because of objects that would be left behind by American or Chinese lunar programs. The United States wants to build a station in orbit around the Moon.
Jonathan McDowell pointed out that these incidents “will start to become problematic when there is more traffic.”
Today, “it’s nobody’s job to follow the trajectory of the garbage we leave in deep space”, the expert recalled. “It’s time to start regulating it.”
Contacted, SpaceX did not respond to AFP. Elon Musk’s company is currently developing a lander that should allow NASA to send Americans back to the Moon before 2025.
© 2022 AFP
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