Rocket on Collision Course With the Moon Reportedly Doesn’t Belong to SpaceX

by Michael Freeman

A few weeks ago, reports emerged stating a SpaceX rocket was on a collision course with the moon. However, it appears that may not be the case, with new information suggesting the rocket doesn’t belong to them.

Ars Technica reports the rocket on its way to the moon doesn’t belong to SpaceX, but actually hails from China. Bill Gray writes the widely-used Project Pluto software which tracks near-Earth objects (NEO) and was the original source saying the Falcon 9 rocket would hit the moon. However, Gray acknowledged it was an error Saturday, saying back in 2015, he found an unidentified object in the sky. He called this WE0913A. Further observations suggested it was human-made, and he thought the timing coincided with the second stage of a recently-launched Falcon 9 rocket, known as DSCOVR.

“I thought it was either DSCOVR or some bit of hardware associated with it,” Gray wrote Saturday. “Further data confirmed that yes, WE0913A had gone past the moon two days after DSCOVR’s launch, and I and others came to accept the identification with the second stage as correct. The object had about the brightness we would expect, and had showed up at the expected time and moving in a reasonable orbit.”

However, Jon Giorgini, a NASA engineer at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, realized it wasn’t actually a Falcon 9 rocket. Writing Gray about it, he began sifting through data to find the true culprit. He did, and it turns out to be the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 mission rocket. Specifically, the Long March 3C rocket launched in October 2014.

Though Gray admits it is “circumstantial evidence,” he says it is convincing and remains certain he is now correct.

Though SpaceX dodged a bullet with a rocket crashing into the moon, NASA recently voiced concerns about something else. The company wants to send 30,000 Starlink satellites into orbit, which NASA isn’t crazy about.

According to Reuters, NASA contacted the Federal Communications Commission about the potential issue. In the correspondence, it said the satellites could impact NASA’s own missions, as well as others. “NASA has concerns with the potential for a significant increase in the frequency of conjunction events and possible impacts to NASA’s science and human spaceflight missions,” they wrote.

Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist, said more study is needed before coming to conclusions. For example, before we can surmise what may happen with tens of thousands of satellites, we should have a few thousand up there first. “We’ve been concerned with having these large numbers of satellites that interfere with astronomical observations,” he said. “… I think we need a little more experience with the several thousand operating satellites before we can ramp up to the tens of thousands.”