Discarded 'Chinese' rocket will smash into the moon TODAY

Discarded rocket will smash into the moon within HOURS: Three-tonne ‘Chinese’ booster is expected to leave a 66ft crater when it hits the lunar surface at 5,800mph today

  • Used rocket, thought to be Chinese, is set to hit moon at 5,800mph at 12:25 GMT
  • Experts say it will leave 66ft crater and send moon dust flying hundreds of miles
  • The spent rocket has been tumbling around haphazardly since its launch in 2014
  • First thought to be a SpaceX rocket and Chinese officials are dubious it is theirs 

A discarded rocket that is believed to belong to China is due to hit the moon within hours.

The three-tonne piece of space junk is expected to leave a massive crater when it smashes into the lunar surface at 5,800mph at 12:25 GMT (07:25 ET) today. 

Astronomers first thought the rocket part had been launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2015, before changing their mind and saying it was Chinese, something Beijing denies.

No matter whose it is, scientists expect the object to carve out a hole 33 feet to 66 feet (10 to 20 meters) across and send moon dust flying hundreds of miles (kilometers) across the barren, pockmarked surface.

The spent rocket booster, believed to be from China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission launched in 2014, will smash into the far side of the moon.

It will be the first time that a piece of space junk has accidentally struck the lunar surface. 

A discarded rocket that is believed to belong to China is due to hit the moon within hours 


Chang’e 5-T1 is an experimental robotic spacecraft that was launched to the moon on October 23, 2014.

Its purpose was to conduct atmospheric re-entry tests on the capsule design planned to be used in the Chang’e 5 mission (eventually launched in 2020).

Chang’e 5-T1 rocket booster has been implicated in a collision with the moon that’s set for March 4, 2022.  

But experts say it may take weeks, even months, to confirm the impact through satellite images. 

Low-orbiting space junk is relatively easy to track but because objects launching deeper into space are unlikely to hit anything, they are usually forgotten about by everybody but a handful of observers.

The leftover booster was originally thought to belong to SpaceX after asteroid tracker Bill Gray identified the collision course in January.

But he corrected himself a month later, saying the ‘mystery’ object was not a Falcon rocket upper stage from the 2015 launch of a deep space climate observatory for NASA.

Gray said it was likely the third stage of a Chinese rocket that sent a test sample capsule to the moon and back in 2014, but Chinese ministry officials said the upper stage had re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up.

However, there were two Chinese missions with similar designations — the test flight and 2020’s lunar sample return mission — and US observers believe the two have been confused.

The US Space Command, which tracks lower space junk, confirmed Tuesday that the Chinese upper stage from the 2014 lunar mission never deorbited, as previously indicated in its database. 

But it could not confirm the country of origin for the object about to strike the moon.

‘We focus on objects closer to the Earth,’ a spokesperson said in a statement.

Gray, a mathematician and physicist, said he is now confident that it is China’s rocket.

‘I’ve become a little bit more cautious of such matters,’ he said. ‘But I really just don’t see any way it could be anything else.’

Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, supported Gray’s revised assessment, but added: ‘The effect will be the same. It’ll leave yet another small crater on the moon.’ 

The moon already bears countless craters, ranging up to 1,600 miles (2,500 kilometers). 

With little to no real atmosphere, the moon is defenseless against the constant barrage of meteors and asteroids, and the occasional incoming spacecraft, including a few intentionally crashed for science’s sake. 

With no weather, there’s no erosion and so impact craters last forever.

China has a lunar lander on the moon’s far side, but it will be too far away to detect Friday’s impact just north of the equator. 

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will also be out of range, while it is unlikely that India’s moon-orbiting Chandrayaan-2 will be passing by then, either.

‘I had been hoping for something (significant) to hit the moon for a long time. Ideally, it would have hit on the near side of the moon at some point where we could actually see it,’ Gray said.

After initially pinning the upcoming strike on Elon Musk´s SpaceX, Gray took another look after an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory questioned his claim. 

Now, he is ‘pretty thoroughly persuaded’ it is a Chinese rocket part, based not only on orbital tracking back to its 2014 liftoff, but also data received from its short-lived ham radio experiment.

When the rocket was identified as hurtling towards the moon last month, it was mistakenly identified as originally belonging to SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk (pictured)

JPL’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies endorses Gray’s reassessment. 

A University of Arizona team also recently identified the Chinese Long March rocket segment from the light reflected off its paint, during telescope observations of the careening cylinder.

It is about 40 feet (12 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.

Gray said SpaceX never contacted him to challenge his original claim and neither have the Chinese.

‘It’s not a SpaceX problem, nor is it a China problem. Nobody is particularly careful about what they do with junk at this sort of orbit,’ Gray said.

Tracking deep space mission leftovers like this is hard, according to McDowell. The moon’s gravity can alter an object’s path during flybys, creating uncertainty. And there’s no readily available database, McDowell noted, aside from the ones ‘cobbled together’ by himself, Gray and a couple others.

‘We are now in an era where many countries and private companies are putting stuff in deep space, so it’s time to start to keep track of it,’ McDowell said. ‘Right now there’s no one, just a few fans in their spare time.’

Jacob Geer, head of space surveillance and tracking at the UK Space Agency, said: ‘Although this particular piece of space junk isn’t likely to cause any significant damage, we are concerned about the growing amount of debris in orbit above the Earth. 

‘This debris could collide at any time with the satellites we depend upon every day for navigation, banking and communications.

‘That’s why the UK is taking action, by funding new technology to track or even remove debris from space and working with international partners, including the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs to lead efforts to promote space sustainability.’


Space debris from a Russian anti-satellite missile test came within 47 feet (14.5 metres) of knocking out China’s Tsinghua science satellite this week, Beijing said in January. 

The near-miss between Tsinghua and the piece of debris, called 49863, occurred at 02:49 GMT on January 18, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said, based on tracking data.

The two objects passed each other at a relative speed of more than 11,700 miles per hour, according to CNSA. 

Russia’s debris came from its 4,410-pound Cosmos 1408 satellite, which the country obliterated in November during its ‘anti-satellite missile test’.

Cosmos 1408 launched in 1982 and was deliberately destroyed by the Russians because it was no longer operational.  

Tsinghua is China’s university-built research payload, launched into orbit in August 2020 aboard a Long March 2D rocket.

Read more: Russian space debris came within 47ft of knocking out China satellite 

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