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After 7 years, a spent Falcon 9 rocket stage is on course to hit the Moon

Added 01-24-22 10:10:03am EST - “The impact could offer scientists a peek at the selenology of the Moon.” - Arstechnica.com


Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Arstechnica.com: “After 7 years, a spent Falcon 9 rocket stage is on course to hit the Moon”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

SpaceX launched its first interplanetary mission nearly seven years ago. After the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage completed a long burn to reach a transfer orbit, NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory began its journey to a Sun-Earth LaGrange point more than 1 million km from the Earth.

Now, according to sky observers, the spent second stage's orbit is on course to intersect with the Moon. According to Bill Gray, who writes the widely used Project Pluto software to track near-Earth objects, asteroids, minor planets, and comets, such an impact could come in March.

Earlier this month, Gray put out a call for amateur and professional astronomers to make additional observations of the stage, which appears to be tumbling through space. With this new data, Gray now believes that the Falcon 9's upper stage will very likely impact the far side of the Moon, near the equator, on March 4. More information can be found here.

Some uncertainties remain. As the object is tumbling, it is difficult to precisely predict the effects of sunlight "pushing" on the rocket stage and thus making slight alterations to its orbit. "These unpredictable effects are very small," Gray writes. But they will accumulate between now and March 4, and further observations are needed to refine the precise time and location of the impact.

This information is important because it will allow satellites presently orbiting the Moon, including NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India's Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft, to collect observations about the impact crater. With the LCROSS mission, NASA deliberately impacted a spent rocket upper stage into the Moon in 2009 for this purpose. Although scientists are most keen to understand the presence of ice at the lunar poles, being able to observe the subsurface material ejected by the Falcon 9 rocket's strike could still provide some valuable data.


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