SpaceX sent a Tesla sports car into space five years ago. Where is he now ?
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It’s been half a decade since SpaceX turned heads around the world with its decision to launch Elon Musk’s personal Tesla roadster into space, sending the car on an endless journey into the cosmic wasteland where it should remain for millennia.
Since Monday, February 6, the cherry-colored sports car has officially been in space for exactly five years.
By the time of his birthday, data estimates show he had made about three and a quarter loops around the sun and was positioned about 203 million miles (327 million kilometers) from Earth, according to the website. tracking whereisroadster.com.
The roadster has traveled more than 2.5 billion miles in space (4 billion kilometers), mostly in a barren vacuum. However, in 2020, the vehicle made its first close approach to Mars, passing within 5 million kilometers of the planet, about 20 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
It is difficult, however, to say where the vehicle is with absolute certainty – or to determine if it is still in one piece, as it is possible that the car was hit or wrecked by a meteoroid or eroded away from above. beyond recognition by radiation. There have been no direct sightings of the roadster since 2018, in the weeks after it was launched atop a three million pound Falcon Heavy rocket. Current data is based only on calculated estimates of the car’s trajectory.
Astronomers don’t have much incentive to actively track the car because it doesn’t offer much scientific value.
The Tesla was ultimately intended to serve as a disposable “dummy payload” for the Falcon Heavy’s first mission in February 2018, a launch that even Musk predicted would only be a 50-50 success.
But the launch ultimately went off without a hitch. And the car has been circling the sun ever since, taking an oblong path which oscillates as far away as Mars’ orbital path and as close to the sun as Earth’s orbit.
On Monday, it just crossed the trajectory of Mars, although the planet itself is on the side opposite the sun.
Ahead of its 2018 launch, SpaceX loaded the car with various Easter eggs. Behind the wheel was a dummy in a space suit, nicknamed Starman, and on the dashboard was a sign that read “Don’t Panic”, a reference to the famous science fiction story, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. There was also a data storage device containing the works of science fiction writer Isaac Asminov and a plaque bearing the names of thousands of SpaceX employees.
Musk said at the time of the launch that he hoped humans would one day establish colonies on other planets in the solar system — a longtime Musk fantasy that also underpins SpaceX’s stated mission to colonize Mars. If and when that happens, Musk said he hopes his “descendants can bring (the roadster) back to a museum.”
For now, however, the roadster probably won’t pass near another planet until 2035, when it’ll brush past Mars again. It will then make two passes a few million kilometers from Earth in 2047 and 2050, according to NASA data.
A 2018 academic paper also estimated that the chance of the car colliding with Earth within the next 15 million years was around 22%. The chances of it crashing into Venus or the Sun are each 12%.
If the car ends up taking a crash course with Earth, we’ll have to hope it’s torn to pieces as it makes its way back through the thick atmosphere. (Space objects that strike Earth are actually quite common and typically burn up in the atmosphere upon entry. Such impacts rarely impact populated areas.)
To keep tabs on the roadster’s predicted location, it has its own entry in NASA’s Horizons database, which tracks all “bodies” in the solar system, including exploration probes, planets, moons, comets and asteroids. The Tesla is listed under object -143205, “SpaceX Roadster (spacecraft) (Tesla)”.
To view a simulation of Tesla’s orbit (based on data from Horizons), go to OrbitSimulator.com and search for “roadster”.