Space news – live: Out-of-control rocket to crash into far side of the moon today

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A Soyuz spacecraft on the launchpad at the Russian Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in December 2021.  (AFP via Getty Images)
A Soyuz spacecraft on the launchpad at the Russian Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in December 2021. (AFP via Getty Images)

The fallout over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to mount, as UK satellite internet company OneWeb announced Thursday that it would cancel all scheduled launches of its satellites from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The company’s announcement came after a series of withdrawals and demands by Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, in response to Western sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Roscosmos had been scheduled to launch OneWeb satellites this week, and Rogozin had demanded the UK government divest from the company before Roscosmos would go through with the launch.

The UK government took a partial ownership position in OneWeb in 2020 following the company’s bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, astronomers are preparing for a collision between a spent rocket section and the Moon expected for some time on Friday. Originally believed to be an old SpaceX rocket booster, some experts now say the rocket section is part of an old Chinese launch vehicle, something China denies.

Whatever its origins, the rocket section will strike the far side of the Moon outside the view of astronomers and their instruments, but Nasa scientists plan to study the impact site after the fact.

You can follow all the latest space news and analysis in our live coverage below.

Key Points

  • Out-of-control rocket to crash today

  • Elon Musk and Roscosmos chief taunt each other

  • Russian space agency takes down OneWeb rocket

09:34 , Andrew Griffin

The Russian space agency is taking down the rocket that was due to take OneWeb’s satellites to space this week, as well as the satellites themselves, and removing them both from the launchpad.

You can follow along with Roscosmos’s live stream here.

OneWeb’s launch had become something of a test of whether collaboration between Russia and other countries in space would continue even as tensions increased on the ground. That test failed yesterday, when OneWeb announced that it would not agree to Roscosmos’s demands for the launch to go ahead, and said that it was suspending all launches from the cosmodrome.

Here’s the full story on that.

Out-of-control rocket to crash today

09:09 , Andrew Griffin

Today is the day that an out-of-control piece of rocket will smash into the lunar surface.

The impact is estimated for 12.25 on Friday, according to the scientists who have been tracking it and working out its trajectory.

We won’t see it happen, however, since the collision will happen on the far side of the Moon. As such, we might not know for weeks – or even months – when, where and how it actually landed on the lunar surface.

But it is not likely to cause any problems. While the rocket is very big and very fast, the lunar surface is largely undisturbed and it is likely to leave only some craters and plumes of dust.

But the meaning of the rocket is more significant. It is just one of a huge amount of space debris currently floating, uncontrolled, off the Earth – and scientists have warned that an errant piece of junk could be enough to cause major problems both up here and down there.

It is still not entirely clear what the rocket is – scientists tracking it initially said it was a piece of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, before running the numbers again and finding that it is more likely to be a piece of Chinese spacecraft.

You can read more about the scientists preparing for the crash here.

Rocosmos hiding flags

Thursday 3 March 2022 22:56 , Jon Kelvey

Following UK satellite internet company OneWeb’s announcement Thursday morning that the company would halt any scheduled launches of its satellites with Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin tweeted a video apparently taunting Western nations and showing workers hiding the international flags on a Soyuz rocket.

“The launchers at Baikonur decided that without the flags of some countries, our rocket would look more beautiful,” Mr Rogozin wrote, referring to the Roscosmos cosmodrome in Baikonur Kazakhstan.

The rocket was scheduled to lift off from Baikonur on Friday carrying OneWeb Satellites to low Earth Orbit. In the video, the large red font spelling out “OneWeb” can be seen on the white rocket fairing, around which are the Japanese, American and other nation’s flags. The workers systematically cover them up with white material.

The tweet is just the latest in a series of similar posts by Mr Rogozin taunting or threatening the Western nations that have placed sanctions on Russia over its invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine. US President Joe Biden announced sanctions a week ago designed to degrade Russia’s space program unless Russia ceased hostilities toward Ukraine.

Scientist excited for rocket to hit Moon Friday

Thursday 3 March 2022 21:51 , Jon Kelvey

A rogue rocket segment is expected to strike the far side of the Moon around noon GMT on Friday, and scientist are excited at the prospect.

While large pieces of space junk are generally concerning, scientists with Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission hope to use the spacecraft to study the impact crater after the fact to learn more about the physics of such impacts and the constituents of lunar soil and rocks.

Scientist excited for rocket to hit Moon Friday

Thursday 3 March 2022 21:51 , Jon Kelvey

A rogue rocket segment is expected to strike the far side of the Moon around noon GMT on Friday, and scientist are excited at the prospect.

While large pieces of space junk are generally concerning, scientists with Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission hope to use the spacecraft to study the impact crater after the fact to learn more about the physics of such impacts and the constituents of lunar soil and rocks.

Thursday 3 March 2022 20:33 , Jon Kelvey

Russia has halted sales of rocket engines to the US, leading to an exchange of taunts between Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, and Elon Musk, CEO of the American company SpaceX.

In retaliation for Western sanctions placed on Russia over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Rogozin said on Russian state television that Russia would no longer sell its RD-180 and RD-181 rocket engines to the US, or service existing engines.

“Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks, I don’t know what,” he quipped.

United Launch Alliance, a collaboration between US aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, uses the RD-180 engine in its Atlas V rocket. But United Launch Alliance president and CEO Tory Bruno told Aviation Week his company has enough engines stockpiled to completed the 12 or so launches his company currently has scheduled.

SpaceX, meanwhile, uses Merlin and Raptor engines in its rockets, engines of the company’s own design and manufacture. After SpaceX used a Merlin-powered Falcon 9 rocket to launch 47 Starlink satellites Thursday, Mr Musk tweeted a video of the launch with the caption, “American broomsticks.”

Thursday 3 March 2022 19:37 , Jon Kelvey

SpaceX is already offering its Starlink internet service to Ukranians for free, but CEO Elon Musk announced Thursday that SpaceX will push out a special software update for users in the besieged nation as well.

The software update will allow Starlink user terminals — which SpaceX also shipped into Ukraine — to operate using less energy, potentially operating on the current provided by a car’s cigarette lighter.

The update comes after exchanges on Twitter between Ukranian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov and Mr Musk, where Mr Fedorov asked Mr Musk for help in keeping Ukranian internet infrastructure online in the midst of war with Russia, and the two discussed using solar panels to power Starlink terminals.

“Solar panels and battery pack better than generator, as no heat signature or smoke and doesn’t run out of fuel,” Mr Musk wrote to Mr Fedorov at one point.

SpaceX launches internet satellites while providing aid to Ukraine

Thursday 3 March 2022 18:14 , Jon Kelvey

While OneWeb’s scheduled internet satellite launches from Russia’s spaceport are grounded for the foreseeable future, SpaceX successfully launched 47 of the company’s Starlink satellites on Thursday.

The launch will help SpaceX get back on track in building out its constellation of low Earth orbit satellites after a solar storm knocked 40 Starlink satellites out of orbit shortly after launch earlier this month.

But the Starlink launch also comes as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has responded to requests from Ukranian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov to help Ukraine stay connected to the internet amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Mr Fedorov’s country. Mr Musk has offered the Starlink internet service to Ukrainians for free, and shipped the small satellite dishes necessary for connecting to the network to Ukraine.