It’s a curious case: NASA’s lost rocket is in the vicinity of our planet, but it will go back to solar orbit.
NASA discovered that a rocket lost in 1966 returned to Earth’s orbit this year. However, it will soon move closer to the Sun.
According to the aerospace agency, Surveyor 2’s booster rocket, called Centaur, was mistaken for an asteroid: they called it SO 2020. Only when they detailed it in depth did they realize that it was the old device.
Surveyor 2 was launched to the Moon, but its booster rocket had never been found. The satellite went out of control and crashed.
However, it will not remain in Earth orbit, but will soon follow its path towards solar, due to the pressure exerted by its light. Remember that it is a low-density object with a large surface area.
Therefore, the pressure of solar radiation will move it « like an empty soda can is pushed by the wind, » compares NASA.
The curious journey of the Centaur, explained by NASA
Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), explained how it all happened.
The lunar Lander Surveyor 2 was launched to the Moon on September 20, 1966 on an Atlas-Centaur rocket. However, as we have told, it was lost and crashed into the Moon.
But the top part, the Centaur, sailed past our natural satellite, disappearing into a close orbit to the Sun.
« A quick check of the launch dates of the lunar missions showed a match with the Surveyor 2 mission, » explained the manager.
How many months will the Centaur be in Earth’s orbit? Four, according to the North American aerospace agency. By February or March 2021 it will go back to the Sun, but not before making two large loops around planet Earth.