Space junk set to crash into moon likely from China, not SpaceX, experts say

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A massive, 3-ton hunk of “space junk” is set to crash into the moon Friday – but the debris may not be from a SpaceX rocket after all.

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According to The Associated Press, although asteroid tracker Bill Gray initially identified the object as the upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon rocket launched in 2015, he later revised his assessment, saying it likely came from a Chinese rocket launched in 2014. Chinese ministry officials denied his claim, arguing that the rocket’s upper stage burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere, the AP reported.

U.S. Space Command said the Chinese rocket never deorbited, but officials could not confirm that the debris hurtling toward the moon came from China, according to the AP.

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Either way, the object is predicted to slam into the moon’s far side at 5,800 mph on Friday, leaving a 33- to 66-foot-wide crater, the news agency reported.

“It’s not a SpaceX problem, nor is it a China problem,” Gray, a physicist and mathematician, told the AP. “Nobody is particularly careful about what they do with junk at this sort of orbit.”

Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who works for the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, supports Gray’s revised prediction, along with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies, which had questioned Gray’s previous assessment.

Because the collision will be out of range of a Chinese lunar lander on the moon’s far side, as well as NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India’s Chandrayaan-2, it could take weeks or months to confirm, the AP reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.