A booster rocket used by the private firm SpaceX to launch the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite in 2015 could collide with the Moon next March when it ran out of fuel for its return to Earth, national media reported Thursday.
The Falcon 9 booster, which has been drifting in space since that year, could impact and leave a 65-foot (20-meter) crater on the far side of the Moon on March 4, researcher Bill Gray said. , according to the specialized internet magazine Space.com.
Gray, an expert in orbital dynamics and head of the company Project Pluto, said that, given the way the 4-tonne rocket moves, it is still very difficult to determine the exact location of the impact site.
“Right now we can’t get more data because the object is quite close to the Sun. On February 7-8 we will have an opportunity to see it and get more data to better determine” and reduce uncertainty, Gray said by email.
Because the impact will take place on the far side of the Moon, the event will not be visible from Earth.
But “pinpointing its time and location remains important” because “it could allow spacecraft in lunar orbit, such as NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and India’s Chandrayaan 2, to study the resulting crater.” , and, “if we’re lucky, maybe we can imagine the impact,” he added.
This is the first uncontrolled collision of a rocket with the Moon, although the effects on its surface will be minor.
The rocket was abandoned in orbit seven years ago now after completing the mission in which it launched a space weather satellite into orbit.
It was part of the space exploration program of the private US firm SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, which ultimately aims to get humans to settle on other planets.