While SpaceX has nailed the process of landing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back to solid ground, the second stage will be burned up in the atmosphere as it falls back to Earth. At least that’s what happens most of the time.
A mission launched by SpaceX in 2015 to send the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory into distant orbit performed all the necessary deployment steps, but then loudly something went wrong Ars Technica Report.
A lack of fuel prevented the second stage booster from reaching Earth’s atmosphere, causing it to plummet through space in a chaotic orbit. But its unpredictable seven-year journey seems to end abruptly in early March when the four-ton booster slams into the moon at 5,000 miles per hour.
After evaluating all available data, sky observer Bill Gray, who also develops software that tracks near-Earth objects, has concluded that the runaway Falcon 9 second stage will impact the lunar surface on March 4, most likely on the other side.
comment on the accuracy of the predicted impact date, Gray wrote on his website: “If that was a rock, I’d be 100% sure… But space junk can be a bit tricky.”
He added: “I have a fairly complete mathematical model of what the earth, moon, sun and planets are doing and how their gravity affects the object. I have a rough idea of how much sunlight is pushing outward on the object, gently pushing it away from the sun. This usually allows me to make predictions with a good level of confidence.”
Gray said he hopes to calculate the location of the impact as accurately as possible in hopes that NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter can photograph the crash site for further investigation.
The event will mark the first time a man-made object has accidentally crashed onto the lunar surface. A deliberate impact took place in 2009, when a NASA Centaur rocket and accompanying probe were hurled toward the moon to locate water on Earth’s nearest neighbor.
SpaceX is currently developing landing hardware for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions, which will see the first manned lunar landing in five decades. However, next month’s collision means some of SpaceX’s kit will arrive on the moon sooner than expected.
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