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China casts doubt on origin of debris of rocket that hit Moon

China casts doubt on origin of debris of rocket that hit Moon

China claims that a piece of distant space debris that is about to hit the Moon did not come off one of the country's lunar missions, as astronomers tracking the object believe. However, it is possible that China mixed up which mission the debris originally came from, as most evidence indicates it is an older Chinese rocket.

This devastating space object has garnered a lot of attention over the past few weeks, ever since an astronomer and space tracker by the name of Bill Gray first predicted that it would hit the Moon on March 4, after years of orbiting Earth. , At first, Gray thought the object was the remains of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched a satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2015. But after some follow-up analysis, Gray claimed he was wrong and that the debris was actually an old rocket stage left over from China's Chang'e 5-T1 mission from 2014, which contained the technology needed to bring back samples from the Moon. was used. was tested.

Gray's conclusion that the object is a Chinese rocket is supported by analysis by a team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Arizona. But China is now officially weighing in on the matter and potentially disputing the claims of US astronomers. "According to Chinese surveillance, the upper stage of the Chang'e-5 mission rocket safely descended into Earth's atmosphere and completely burned down," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a news conference. "Conference on Monday. This statement was first reported by Space News.

Notably, Wang said that the rocket of the Chang'e-5 mission burned up in Earth's atmosphere, according to a transcript of the conference. But Gray and others are claiming that the rocket is from the Chang'e 5-T1 mission, a different flight altogether. Chang'e 5-T1 was a predecessor mission to Chang'e-5, which did not launch until 2020. According to a new blog post from Grey, that mission's booster actually fell back to Earth and burned up in the atmosphere. ,

As for Chang'e 5-T1's booster, Space News noted that the Space Force's 18th Space Control Squadron – responsible for tracking space debris – states on its tracking website that it will reach Earth in October of 2015. Will go was burnt in the atmosphere. But Gray has an explanation for that discrepancy as well. Apparently, 18SPCS provided an update on the rocket's trajectory shortly after the mission began and never again. That means the "conclusion" that the rocket has burned up is probably a prediction based on that one update, Gray says.

"If that's all they had to do, the re-entry date is predicted a year ahead of time and isn't particularly meaningful. (like trying to predict the weather a year ahead of time)," Write in your own blog post. The Verge contacted US Space Command, which maintains a massive inventory of space debris tracked around Earth, but did not receive a response in time for publication. If we hear back we'll update.

Gray says he wondered for a while whether there was another massive object with the Chang'e 5-T1 mission, and that other object is now causing all this fuss. However, another such mysterious object has not been listed. He also says that after asking around, it doesn't seem like any other object can tell what they're seeing. "It would be really surprising if there are two objects that we're tracking and the upper stage is as big [of a Chinese rocket]," Gray tells The Verge. "So anyone who says it's not an upper stage has a good sized mountain of evidence to get to this point."

In such a situation, all the signs are pointing towards the rocket coming from China. For Gray, what all this confusion signifies is that there is a great need for better tracking of deep space junk. Official tracking organizations like 18SPCS are actually more focused on tracking debris in lower orbits around Earth, as they pose a significant risk to the satellites and other assets we rely on every day. When it comes to objects like these that were launched into deep space and have spent years in very long orbits around Earth, no official agency is really keeping an eye.

Gray argues that the entities launching such objects should make their rocket positioning data publicly available and that someone - or some (perhaps international) agency should retain all that information. And above all, attention should be paid to how these items are discarded. "Many more spacecraft are now going into higher orbits, and some of them are carrying crew to the Moon," writes Gray. "This kind of junk will no longer be just an annoyance to a small group of astronomers. A few fairly simple steps will go a long way."

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