This is the very first time that an object of this size will crash into the Moon by accident.
In recent years, SpaceX has tended to normalize the extraordinary in the aerospace sector. Between its regular shuttles to the ISS, its conclusive tests on the recovery of launchers and its other projects, each more impressive than the next, it would be easy to forget that the firm had a more laborious beginning. A remnant of a Falcon 9 rocket, lost in space for years, will take care of reminding them when it swill crash on the Moon in a few weeks.
This date was determined by Bill Gray, the engineer behind Project Pluto. This is a program that aims to track all objects that pass close to the Earth, whether natural like asteroids… or artificial, like pieces of a rocket.
In his statement spotted by Gizmodo, Gray says the impact with our satellite is now “certain”. Still to be determined where and when it will occur. But then again, Gray has his own idea. He estimates that the Falcon 9 stage should crash near the lunar equator on March 4 next.
A relic from the early days of SpaceX
This 4-ton machine had been left in orbit after a test carried out in 2015. It is also a relic of an important mission in the history of SpaceX. For Elon Musk’s firm, it was the very first private launch of an American research satellite, in this case the Deep Space Climate Observatory. The first of a long list which has gradually seen SpaceX establish itself as a privileged partner for the American administration.
But if the mission was a success and the satellite is now working perfectly, not everything went as planned for the Falcon rocket. Unlike NASA’s LCROSS, a scientific bumper car designed specifically to crash into the Moon, this craft was meant to return to Earth. But he finally found himself trapped in orbit following a fuel shortage.
Since then, this empty shell has been stuck in a chaotic orbit around Earth. A trajectory that could in no case be maintained indefinitely. Indeed, our planet is not the only celestial body to exert an influence on the objects in its orbit. We must also take into account the influence of the Moon, whose mass also generates a gravitational force.
The Moon, a disturbing element
This force is obviously much less important than that generated by the Earth. It is largely insufficient to tear it suddenly from its orbit. But it is not negligible, and its effect can be felt in the long term. This implies a very concrete consequence: any orbit located between the Earth and the Moon is unstable by nature.
This is a well-known factor in aerospace, and one that engineers must constantly take into account. Without intervention, any object on such a trajectory will meet a sad fate. It will end up either in exile in a heliocentric orbit, or burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere… or in a thousand pieces on the surface of the Moon. It is for this reason that the various satellites of this type must be able to slightly adjust their trajectory.
Anyway, all the experts seem to agree that the situation does not pose any risk, either for the equipment or the humans present on board the ISS. Let’s just hope that the future craft of the Artemis mission will manage to land more delicately!