Rocket Stage From China’s Spacecraft About to Crash Into the Moon on March 4, Astronomer Says

The rocket stage detached from a Chinese spacecraft is set to strike the moon on March 4, an astronomer tracking near-Earth objects says after weighing launch time and lunar trajectory, as well as correcting previous mistakes. Bill Gray, who runs Project Pluto, said the object on a collision course with the moon most likely comes from the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 mission launched in October 2014 on a Long March 3C rocket, according to Ars Technica. As part of China’s lunar exploration program, Chang’e 5-T1 was an experimental robotic spacecraft, which was launched to the moon on Oct. 23, 2014, by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) for atmospheric re-entry tests. It was named after the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e. According to Gray, the Chinese lunar mission sent a small spacecraft to the moon as a precursor test for an eventual lunar-sample return mission. He held that its launch time and lunar trajectory are almost an exact match for the orbit of the object that will hit the moon in March. Previously, Ars Technica mistook the upper stage of a Falcon 9 rocket for the mystery object, because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission in 2015. Consequently, some media outlets accused SpaceX of mishandling its second stage. Falcon 9 is a two-stage-to-orbit medium-lift launch vehicle designed and manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. However, it wasn’t until engineer Jon Giorgini at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that this mistake was pointed out. He questioned the conclusion in his letter to Gray on Saturday morning, saying the DSCOVR spacecraft’s trajectory did not go particularly close to the Moon, dismissing the Falcon 9 stage as extremely unlikely to crash into the Moon. Based on Giorgini’s findings, Gary reexamined his data and finally identified China’s Chang’e 5-T1 as the most probable “object about to hit the moon on 2022 Mar 4 at 12:25 UTC.” In his blogs, Gary wrote that tracking deep-space junk has become a concern, with a growing number of spacecraft now going into high orbits. He recommended simple steps that would help to address this issue. For instance, anybody who launches objects into high orbits must make the last known position and direction publicly available to some agreed-upon institution that has funding to do the job. Although proper disposition may have different interpretations, simply ignoring the junk issue should never be an option, the astronomer emphasized. The Verge, a New York-based multimedia outlet, describes China as notorious for releasing very little information about its space missions. By the time of publication, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) did not return a request for comment. Follow Frank Yue is a Canada-based journalist for The Epoch Times who covers China-related news. He also holds an M.A. in English language and literature from Tianjin Foreign Studies University, China.

Rocket Stage From China’s Spacecraft About to Crash Into the Moon on March 4, Astronomer Says

The rocket stage detached from a Chinese spacecraft is set to strike the moon on March 4, an astronomer tracking near-Earth objects says after weighing launch time and lunar trajectory, as well as correcting previous mistakes.

Bill Gray, who runs Project Pluto, said the object on a collision course with the moon most likely comes from the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 mission launched in October 2014 on a Long March 3C rocket, according to Ars Technica.

As part of China’s lunar exploration program, Chang’e 5-T1 was an experimental robotic spacecraft, which was launched to the moon on Oct. 23, 2014, by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) for atmospheric re-entry tests. It was named after the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e.

According to Gray, the Chinese lunar mission sent a small spacecraft to the moon as a precursor test for an eventual lunar-sample return mission. He held that its launch time and lunar trajectory are almost an exact match for the orbit of the object that will hit the moon in March.

Previously, Ars Technica mistook the upper stage of a Falcon 9 rocket for the mystery object, because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission in 2015. Consequently, some media outlets accused SpaceX of mishandling its second stage.

Falcon 9 is a two-stage-to-orbit medium-lift launch vehicle designed and manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

However, it wasn’t until engineer Jon Giorgini at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that this mistake was pointed out. He questioned the conclusion in his letter to Gray on Saturday morning, saying the DSCOVR spacecraft’s trajectory did not go particularly close to the Moon, dismissing the Falcon 9 stage as extremely unlikely to crash into the Moon.

Based on Giorgini’s findings, Gary reexamined his data and finally identified China’s Chang’e 5-T1 as the most probable “object about to hit the moon on 2022 Mar 4 at 12:25 UTC.”

In his blogs, Gary wrote that tracking deep-space junk has become a concern, with a growing number of spacecraft now going into high orbits. He recommended simple steps that would help to address this issue. For instance, anybody who launches objects into high orbits must make the last known position and direction publicly available to some agreed-upon institution that has funding to do the job.

Although proper disposition may have different interpretations, simply ignoring the junk issue should never be an option, the astronomer emphasized.

The Verge, a New York-based multimedia outlet, describes China as notorious for releasing very little information about its space missions.

By the time of publication, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) did not return a request for comment.


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Frank Yue is a Canada-based journalist for The Epoch Times who covers China-related news. He also holds an M.A. in English language and literature from Tianjin Foreign Studies University, China.