General, Research, Technology

The lost part of the rocket of the XX century returned to the Earth's orbit

In mid-September 2020 located atIn Hawaii, the Haleakala Space Observatory has discovered an unidentified object approaching Earth. At first, scientists thought they were dealing with an asteroid unknown to science, but the trajectory of the object turned out to be too strange. After careful observation, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was convinced that the object was created by humans. The mysterious contraption turned out to be a part of the rocket, which in the second half of the 20th century was used in the framework of the Surveyor-2 program. Scientists have long forgotten that part of the rocket was lost. But then she decided to remind of herself and reappeared near our planet. But how exactly did she end up in outer space?

There is so much debris in Earth orbit, and now part of a long-forgotten rocket has appeared there

Unidentified object near Earth

The fact that the unidentified object is partlong forgotten rocket, NASA reported only on November 12. For a long time it was known under the 2020 SO index. According to scientists, they are dealing with the upper stage "Centaurus" - this is the same as the second stage. It belongs to the Atlas rocket, which in 1966 took off from Cape Canaveral along with the Surveyor 2 lunar rover. In those days, people still did not know how to land rocket stages back to Earth, so part of the rocket just flew into space. Apparently, she got into the solar orbit. Objects of this size are difficult to track, so scientists have long forgotten about its existence.

flight path of the lost part of the rocket from September 2020 to June 2021

However, after 54 years, the stage again reminded ofyourself. Suddenly, she approached the Earth now, until June 2021, it will make two orbits around our planet. A collision is unlikely, but if it could happen, no big deal. Such small objects quickly burn up in the atmosphere of the planet and we would not even notice anything. But a collision with a high degree of probability will not happen, because according to the calculations of scientists, the object will return to the Sun's orbit. Whether he will return to us ever again is impossible to say for sure.

Upper stage "Centaurus" looks like this. This is a modern model, there are no photos of the block in orbit

It is important to note that the second stages "Centaurus"are still used today. Since the second half of the 20th century, they have practically not changed. Their design is almost the same - engineers have only improved materials and updated electronics. And so, the stages developed as early as 1958 are still part of the Atlas launch vehicles. For example, they were used in rockets of the Atlas V family, which launched the New Horizons interplanetary station and the Curiosity rover.

See also: What useful resources are there in asteroids and how can they be obtained?

Mission "Surveyor 2"

As for the Surveyor 2 mission, during whichthe old step was lost, it failed. It was launched during the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In January 1966, the Soviet station Luna-9 became the first spacecraft to descend to the lunar surface. She was able to convey to scientists some of the first photographs of an earth satellite. In order to keep up with competitors, in May of the same year the United States launched the Surveyor 1 apparatus and also successfully landed it on the moon. The Surveyor 2 spacecraft was designed to collect data on the structure of the lunar surface, but crashed during the descent. The exact location of the crash is still unknown to scientists.

The device "Surveyor-1" is still lying on the moon. Nobody knows where Surveyor-2 is

As you can see, humanity has already sentvarious devices to the moon. In 2024, as part of the Artemis program, NASA will again send people to Earth's satellite. If astronomers ever manage to build a base on the moon, researchers will clearly find many long-forgotten vehicles. It is interesting to realize that in just half a century, mankind has managed to fill not only the Earth with garbage, but also the Moon located more than 384 thousand kilometers.

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Meanwhile, scientists are constantly monitoring the movementspace objects. They recently discovered that the asteroid Apophis, discovered in 2004, changed its trajectory and could collide with Earth in 2068. Considering that its size is comparable to the height of the largest skyscrapers in the world, a collision could cause serious problems. You can read about what can happen when a huge asteroid falls to Earth in this material.