Astronomers have now concluded that the rocket stage that will impact the Moon on March 4th is not an abandoned the Falcon 9 upper stage that launched the DISCOVR satellite in 2015, but an upper stage from a Chinese rocket.
It was an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Jon Giorgini, who realized this object was not in fact the upper stage of a Falcon 9 rocket. He wrote to Gray on Saturday morning explaining that the DSCOVR spacecraft’s trajectory did not go particularly close to the Moon, and that it would therefore be a little strange if the second stage strayed close enough to strike it. This prompted Gray to dig back into his data, and identify other potential candidates.
He soon found one—the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 mission launched in October 2014 on a Long March 3C rocket. This lunar mission sent a small spacecraft to the Moon as a precursor test for an eventual lunar sample return mission. The launch time and lunar trajectory are almost an exact match for the orbit of the object that will hit the Moon in March.
Regardless, it will be very useful to pindown the exact impact time and place so that astronomers can observe it.
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