The Verge's After mistaken identity and confusion, a piece of space junk slams into the Moon goes through the identification saga of the thing that hit the Moon March 4 and includes the following:
Some other confusion revolved around the fact that the Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS) — which keeps track of space debris around Earth — noted on its tracking website that the rocket from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission returned to our planet about a year after launch and burned up in our atmosphere. However, the 18SPCS later confirmed in a statement to The Verge that the Long March 3C from the flight did not actually reenter our atmosphere and has been in space ever since its launch.
Though the 18SPCS’s update lends credibility to the idea that the rocket is from the Chang’e 5-T1 mission, it won’t say for sure that’s the origin of the object. “The 18th Space Control Squadron is currently determining the appropriate update to the space catalog,” Major Annmarie Annicelli, chief of the public affairs operations division at US Space Command, provided in an emailed statement to The Verge. “While U.S. Space Command can confirm the CHANG’E 5-T1 rocket body never de-orbited, we cannot confirm the country of origin of the rocket body that may impact the moon.”
The reason the 18SPCS does not have good data here is that it’s not really concerned with tracking deep-space debris like this. The 18SPCS is much more focused on tracking space debris in closer orbits to Earth, as the space environment there has become much more crowded. That population of objects has grown extensively over the last few decades, especially after Russia intentionally destroyed one of its own satellites during an anti-satellite test, or ASAT test, in November. The 18SPCS claimed that once the Chang’e 5-T1 rocket passed more than 22,000 miles beyond Earth, their official trackers de-prioritized following the object. They plan to revise the database, though, to reflect more up-to-date information.
Question: Is it true that 18SPCS is "not really concerned with tracking deep-space debris like" the Chang’e 5-T1 rocket body that hit the Moon?
I suppose this could be divided into parts:
- Did they care before?
- If not, are they starting to care now?
- If not, will they need to care more in the future?