This tweet says in part:
Earth's potential new minimoon, 2020 SO may be the Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket body, launched in September 1966. Integrating backwards shows 2020 SO2 to also be orbiting Earth in September 1966.
and links to this Orbit Simulator setup which exhibits said behavior. I guess that you have to speed it up to move forward a half-century but slow down once 2020 starts:
In fact this is the third pass of that simulated orbit through Earth's neighborhood (association with the Sun-Earth Lagrange points) since the 1960's.
For more on mini-moons see Have there been any documented mini-moons since 2006 RH120?
Suppose there was support to find out if 2020 SO is the rocket body or not, and if so, do some in situ studies of long term exposure of (1960's) aerospace materials to deep space and perhaps bring back a few samples to see what the cat brought home.
- Could such a mission be thrown together while it's still "in the area", for of the order of $200 million? It would need appropriate maneuverability to get up close and take images or other measurements (e.g. a stripped-down electron microscope)
- This seems harder; if it had a mechanism to remove a
chunksample, could it then remain in Earth's neighborhood without needing a big delta-v so that a later recovery mission could return the sample back to Earth? Or could it be given a small nudge that puts it into a longer-lasting orbit, something to buy a few years for a better-planned mission to then go and measure and perhaps recover a sample?