The lunar far side as imaged by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter using its LROC Wide Angle Camera.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

 

NASA is monitoring the trajectory of a SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage, which supported the U.S. Air Force (now U.S. Space Force) launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission in 2015. That mission is a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Space Force.

After completing its flight, the second stage was put in its intended Earth-escape, heliocentric disposal orbit. On its current trajectory, the second stage is expected to impact the far side of the Moon on March 4, 2022.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Credit: NASA/GSFC

 

Assessing observations

“NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will not be in a position to observe the impact as it happens,” a NASA statement sent to Inside Outer Space explains.

“However, the mission team is assessing if observations can be made to any changes to the lunar environment associated with the impact and later identify the crater formed by the impact. This unique event presents an exciting research opportunity,” the NASA statement adds.

“Following the impact, the mission can use its [LRO] cameras to identify the impact site, comparing older images to images taken after the impact. The search for the impact crater will be challenging and might take weeks to months.”

Wayward junk

It’s clear that the “Moon community” of researchers sees science in the making with the booster impact.

“First of all, huge cheers for the amateur astronomers who first noted where this wayward piece of space junk was headed,” said lunar researcher, Carle Pieters at Brown University. “We are fortunate that in March there are assets in lunar orbit that can document the effects of its demise on the lunar surface and provide detailed analyses.”

But let’s also be clear, said Pieters on the informative Lunar-L website, hosted by the University of Notre Dame: “Given the long-term interest in and activity at the Moon over the coming decades by the international community,” Pieters advised, “no space-faring entity should ever consider it ok to simply discard unwanted objects to impact the Moon without appropriate analyses of the effect. As activities on the Moon expand, such random human-initiated impacts would be irresponsible.”

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