China has rejected reports that claimed rocket debris from its Chang’e 5-T1 lunar mission is set to collide with the Moon on March 4.
The doomed space debris was first reported by Bill Gray, an astronomer running Project Pluto. In his blogpost, Gray first claimed that the debris is from billionaire Elon Musk owned SpaceX rocket.
But later Gray predicted that the object is a leftover piece of a Chinese rocket, specifically a Long March 3C that launched China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission to the Moon.
But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the claim, Space News reported.
“According to China’s monitoring, the upper stage of the rocket related to the Chang’e-5 mission entered into Earth’s atmosphere and completely burned up,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was quoted as saying during a press conference.
But the rocket that Gray and others are claiming is from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which is a separate flight. Chang’e 5-T1 was a precursor mission to Chang’e-5, which did not launch until 2020.
Most evidence point the debris to be from Chang’e 5-T1 mission.
“We now have good evidence that it is actually 2014-065B, the booster for the Chang’e 5-T1 lunar mission. It will, however, still hit the moon within a few kilometres of the predicted spot on March 4, 2022 at 12:25 UTC, within a few seconds of the predicted time,” Gray wrote in a new blog post, last week.
Chang’e 5-T1 lunar mission tested out technology needed to bring samples back from the Moon in 2014.
Gray’s conclusion that the object is a Chinese rocket has also been backed up by analysis from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and by a team at the University of Arizona, The Verge reported.
However, Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron – responsible for tracking space debris – says on its tracking website that it burned up in Earth’s atmosphere in October of 2015.
Gray noted that apparently, the 18SPCS only provided one update on the rocket’s trajectory shortly after the mission launched and then never again. That means the “conclusion” that the rocket burned up is likely a prediction based on that one update, he said.
Gray said he also wondered if there was another object causing all of the fuss.
“It would be really surprised if there were two objects as large as the one we’re tracking and the upper stage [of the Chinese rocket],” Gray was quoted as saying to The Verge. “So anybody who says that this is not the upper stage has a pretty good-sized mountain of evidence at this point to overcome.”
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