That errant SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage due to hit the Moon in early March may provide some science potential.

The 4-ton stage will slam into the lunar landscape and officials for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) are planning to take advantage of the event.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

“The LRO project is assessing if the spacecraft will be in a position to observe the impact, similar to what we did with LCROSS and the GRAIL spacecraft,” explains Noah Petro, project scientist for LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Earlier crashes

NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) was launched with the LRO to determine if water-ice exists in a permanently shadowed crater at the Moon’s south pole. As planned, LCROSS and its Centaur stage impacted the Moon on October 9, 2009.

Artist’s rendering of the LCROSS spacecraft and Centaur separation at the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

The twin spacecraft of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission impacted the Moon on December 17, 2012 marking the end of its successful endeavor to map the Moon’s gravity. The two washing-machine-sized spacecraft were named Ebb and Flow, plowing into the Moon’s North Pole.

NASA’s twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) probes.
Credit: NASA

Post-impact

“The [upper stage] impact will occur on March 4, as we get closer to that date our confidence in the LRO spacecraft position at the time of impact will improve, and our understanding of the booster trajectory will change after it’s tracked in early February,” Petro explained on the informative Lunar-L website, hosted by the University of Notre Dame.

Petro added that LRO instrument teams are starting to plan what can be done to monitor changes to the Moon’s exosphere and spot the crater post-impact.

“LRO will pass over the predicted impact site on March 28 and then again roughly a month later,” Petro said. “LRO is ready to take this event and make the most of it!”

For more detailed information, go to these articles:

— “The Moon Had it Coming – After 7 years, a spent Falcon 9 rocket stage is on course to hit the Moon – The impact could offer scientists a peek at the selenology of the Moon” by Eric Berger of Ars Technica at: https://arstechnica.com/science/2022/01/an-old-falcon-9-rocket-may-strike-the-moon-within-weeks/

— SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stage will slam into the moon on March 4 – The moon’s spacecraft graveyard will soon welcome another body” by Space.com‘s Mike Wall at:
https://www.space.com/spacex-falcon-9-rocket-hit-moon-march-2022

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