China says the rocket stage due to hit the Moon on March 4 is not one of its missions, contradicting several recent reports.
Several independent observations suggest that this is the rocket from the Chang'e 5-T1 mission in 2014, after a misidentification that the stage was thought to be part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite in February 2015. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs now states that the missile for the Chang'e-5-T1 was destroyed shortly after launch.
"According to China's monitoring, the upper stage of the rocket associated with the Chang'e-5 mission entered the Earth's atmosphere and burned up completely," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday (February 21) on the government website China. China's denial illustrates the difficulty of tracking objects in deep space after launch, and the Space Force's latest findings are not without controversy.
Astronomer Bill Gray said that space forces must be concentrated on objects that are close to the Earth. (The mission of the Space Force, in particular, is to offer the United States "decision makers," as they call it, "military capabilities to achieve national goals.")
Gray is widely credited with the discovery of an object approaching the Moon, regardless of its origin. Earlier this month, he posted a blog post explaining why he initially misidentified the object as belonging to SpaceX, and why he and other observers believe it now belongs to a Chinese rocket.
In an update to a blog post on Monday (February 21), Gray said Space Force tracking data is a "little mystery" but pointed out that the tracking data provided so far is radar observations shortly after China's 2014 launch year. According to him, asteroid watchers, on the contrary, have observed this object over the past few years.
For most of that 2014, the Chang'e-5T1 launch vehicle would have been well out of radar view. So I highly doubt that 18SPCS was actually tracking her,” Gray said of the Space Force data.