China denies rocket on collision-course with Moon is theirs

We’ve been following a rocket upper stage that is headed for a crash landing on the Moon for nearly a month now. While the object has been observed from Earth, and its collision time has been estimated at around 7:30 a.m. on March 4, the actual identity of the rocket stage has come into question. Now a spokesperson for China has denied that the object is one of the country’s rocket upper stages.

Before we get into the details, it is important to note that this: The rocket stage poses virtually zero risk to any assets on the Moon, and this isn’t the first time a rocket stage or other spaceflight hardware has impacted the Moon.

As we noted in our first story about this rocket stage:

Many mission’s spent stages have been used to impact the Moon in the past. Most notably during Apollo, NASA would impact both the S-IVB (Saturn V third stage) and Lunar Module’s ascent stage into the surface. Then seismometers would record the “moonquakes” that would occur.

What rocket is going to hit the Moon

Back in January, it was believed that the rocket stage headed for the Moon was from SpaceX’s launch of the DSCOVR mission. It later became clear that this was a misidentification from back in 2015. Further analysis in early February showed that it was likely an upper stage from the Long March rocket that launched China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission.

During a Press conference on February 21, a spokesperson for the country was asked by an Associated Press journalist whether they could provide any more details or confirmation on the identity of the rocket headed for the moon:

The Chinese side has noted experts’ analysis and media reports on the matter recently. According to China’s monitoring, the upper stage of the Chang’e-5 mission rocket has fallen through the Earth’s atmosphere in a safe manner and burnt up completely. China’s aerospace endeavors 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.

Wang Wenbin, Director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department of China

Supporting these claims, notes that “Space tracking data from the Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron suggests that 2014-065B—the international designator for the rocket stage in question—reentered the atmosphere in October 2015, a year after launch.”

Despite these comments, the Astronomer that first made note of the forthcoming impact remains confident in his identification of the object as originating from Chang’e 5-T1. He believes there is confusion between the Chang’e 5-T1 mission from 2014 and another mission.

Separately, there was a Chang’e 5 lunar mission launched in November 2020. A different mission, with a booster that did re-enter over the Pacific Ocean a week after it was launched.

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