Starman to enter Mars orbit during one of multiple encounters
Just where is that Starman, waiting in the sky?
It’s been two weeks since Elon Musk and SpaceX made history with the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket into space. The privatized aerospace company scored a 2/3 with their awe-inspiring, autonomous and synchronous launch and landings of their Falcon Heavy side cores, with the Falcon Heavy center core just missing it’s mark on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship.
While the feat was an engineering and world-first breakthrough, most attention is being drawn towards the payload of this mission — Elon Musk’s personal cherry red Tesla roadster, crewed by “Starman,” a tribute to David’s Bowie’s “Space Odyssey” and the 1981 cult-classic, “Heavy Metal.”
So where is it?
Thanks to developer Ben Pearson and his whereisroadster.com website, all of this information is in a neat and tight package, with live updates and animated charts to boot. Pearson uses HORIZON data from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
What about Mars?
First off, the Tesla has totally eclipsed it’s Earth warranty of 36,000 miles by roughly 718 times as of this posting, and it’s not slowing down — Mars is in it’s sights.
According to the data, the Tesla will have three close encounters with Mars in the next two years.
- June 9, 2018 at a distance of 0.740 AU
- September 19, 2018 at a distance of 0.649 AU
- October 7, 2020 at a distance of 0.049 AU
(1 AU = 149,597,870,700 metres and roughly 92,955,807.273026 miles & 149,597,870.7 km)
However in a thread on a Space Exploration StackExchange boards, Pearson notes that the closest encounter to Mars will be on October 10, 2020, where Starman will be roughly 0.05 AU (4,647,790 miles, 7,479,893.535 km away from the red planet — close enough to be effected by Martian gravity.
It should be noted that these are projected data sets and are updated as Pearson receives new information. While they provide estimates now, he notes that they may no longer function in a few years time.
Although the feats performed by SpaceX are undoubtedly impressive and have never been accomplished before, a few thoughts do creep in — why waste the launch on putting a car in space? Couldn’t it have carried something more impressive? What about space junk? What was the point?
The point is that we’re talking about it. It’s intriguing. It’s thought provoking. You’re reading this piece! (hopefully!)
Ultimately SpaceX needed to determine how much weight the Falcon Heavy could handle for future missions — bolstering Elon’s personal Tesla to the rockets was an absolute PR home run intertwined with cultural nostalgia and sensational science that has resonated with millions around the world.
And hey, back on Earth, we don’t have to worry about Starman hitting us anytime soon — or at least for a million years, according to researchers at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough’s Centre for Planetary Science, who say there’s a 6 per cent chance of collision with our little Pale Blue Dot.
Thanks for reading!
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