Having left Earth in 2018, Starman and the Tesla Roadster are now in the vicinity of Mars. But the model and his vehicle are just passing by.
Remember, that was 2018: SpaceX was launching its new rocket, the Falcon Heavy, for the very first time, which is actually a Falcon 9 launcher supported by two other Falcon 9s that were converted into side boosters. The flight was successful and since then two more missions have been completed – a third scheduled for early next year, this time on behalf of the military.
But this day was not only marked by the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy. It was also astonishing by the “payload” present on board the launcher. Indeed, Elon Musk had the idea to put on board a Tesla Roadster whose driver's seat was occupied by "Starman", a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit. For the boss of SpaceX and Tesla, this was a nice media stunt.
Starman and the Tesla Roadster approach Mars
Two years later, Starman is still in the Solar System. But where ? SpaceX has just given news of its space "traveler" in a message posted October 8 on Twitter. It turns out that the Tesla Roadster and its occupant are now very close to the planet Mars, some 0.05 astronomical units from the red planet, or just under 7.4 million km.
Starman, last seen leaving Earth, made its first close approach with Mars today — within 0.05 astronomical units, or under 5 million miles, of the Red Planet pic.twitter.com/gV8barFTm7
– SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 7, 2020
It is no coincidence that SpaceX had planned to place the Tesla Roadster in a heliocentric orbit – that is, around the Sun – in an elliptical path, one of which having a more or less flattened oval shape. Here, the Sun is not at the center of the Tesla Roadster's orbit, but near one of the "bends" of the oval. There is no question of inserting into Martian orbit, nor of crashing into the planet.
Due to space mechanics and preliminary calculations made by SpaceX, the trajectory of the Tesla Roadster causes it to cross that of Mars around the Sun. There will undoubtedly be others, since SpaceX evokes the first approach between the two space objects. But given the distances involved, the next meeting won't come for years.
If you are interested in Starman's wanderings in space, note that there is a website that helps locate the dummy in the Solar System – the display is admittedly rudimentary, but allows you to catch the situation at a glance. eye – it should also be noted that the trajectory of the Roadster and its driver must one day cross the orbit of the Earth.
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