The four-ton upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, launched in February 2015 is on a collision course with the moon after spending almost seven years hurtling through space, experts say.
The February 2015 launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, sent the climate observation satellite 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth, on its way to Lagrange point 1 (L1), a gravity-neutral position four times further than the moon and in direct line with the sun.
However, according to The Guardian, after completing a long burn of its engines and running out of fuel, the upper stage of the rocket became a derelict, doomed to a chaotic orbit that has lasted for years.
At this stage it was high enough that it did not have enough fuel to return to Earth’s atmosphere but also “lacked the energy to escape the gravity of the Earth-Moon system”, meteorologist Eric Berger explained in a recent post on Ars Technica.
According to observers, the derelict upper stage is expected to crash into the moon on March 4, at 7:25 a.m. Eastern time. There is still some uncertainty in the exact time and place, but the rocket piece is not going to miss the moon, said Bill Gray, developer of Project Pluto, a suite of astronomical software used to calculate the orbits of asteroids and comets.
“It is quite certain it’s going to hit, and it will hit within a few minutes of when it was predicted and probably within a few kilometers,” Mr. Gray said.
The motion of the Falcon 9 stage, dead and uncontrolled, is determined primarily by the gravitational pull of the Earth, the moon and the sun and a nudge of pressure from sunlight, according to the New York Times.
Mark Robinson, a professor of earth and space exploration at Arizona State University who serves as the principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s camera, said he expected four tons of metal, hitting at a speed of some 5,700 miles per hour, would carve out a divot 10 to 20 meters wide, or up to 65 feet in diameter.