China denies responsibility of the Moon-bound rocket debris

On February 21, the Chinese Foreign Ministry refuted US assertions that a spent rocket booster due to crash into the far side of the moon next month is a relic of a Chinese lunar mission from 2014. The debris, which was first linked to the Falcon 9 rocket launched by SpaceX in February 2015, was eventually identified as object WE0913A, a Chinese rocket debris component.

Initial report of the debris

An object named WE0913A was on a track to crash with the moon March 4, according to astronomer Bill Gray, who reported it on January 21. Gray first linked the debris to the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) meteorological satellites, which were launched on a Falcon 9 rocket in February 2015.

Last week, Gray changed his observation, saying the space debris was most likely left behind from China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which was launched in 2014. The Chang’e 5-T1 spacecraft was launched into orbit in October 2014 on a three-stage Long March 3C rocket to test the return capsule’s ability to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The test went well, and the capsule returned to Earth the following month. (More on the previous report about the Chinese debris crash here.)

Brief description on the Chang’e 5 –T1

Chang’e-5 T1 served as a test mission for a larger lunar sample return mission. After returning from the moon, it successfully demonstrated a high-velocity spacecraft’s ability to “skip reentry,” proving that a re-entry capsule could safely carry lunar materials to Earth. The mission’s top stage, the Long March 3C rocket, also carried Luxembourg’s Manfred Memorial Moon Mission. The mission was part of China’s lunar exploration programme, in which the government wants to send humans to the moon in the future. (More on the Chang’e missions and China’s Lunar Mission here.)

What will be the impact of the debris crash?

According to experts, the debris, which is about the size of a school bus, will be completely destroyed, and a huge cloud of moon dust will rise from the impact spot and settle across a vast area of the moon. In about a day, the dust will settle, revealing a fresh lunar crater. The projected collision in March will have minimal influence on the moon in general, but there may be some lessons to be learnt.

China refuses the accusation

The Chinese Foreign Ministry disputed US assertions that a spent rocket booster set to crash into the far side of the moon next month is a relic of a Chinese lunar mission from 2014. The launcher in issue, which NASA previously stated was likely from China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission, “safely hit the Earth’s atmosphere and was entirely destroyed,” according to a Ministry official. The announcement has sparked a heated discussion over the dangers of space debris.

 “China’s aerospace endeavours are always in keeping with international law. We are committed to earnestly safeguarding the long-term sustainability of outer space activities and are ready to have extensive exchanges and cooperation with all sides,” the spokesperson further said regarding the issue at hand.

The discovery of the derelict rocket has reignited discussion about space trash and how to track it, with both unmanned and manned spacecraft at risk of colliding. The rocket booster’s impact on the moon, on the other hand, is not expected to cause any complications.

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