The Tesla’s Orbit, Refined: Not Quite So Far

Yesterday, Elon Musk tweeted that the aphelion of the Tesla would put it out into th asteroid belt, but it seems that may not be quite right.  After the initial enthusiasm was over, planetary scientists who study near Earth objects did a bit of work with the final velocity figures released by SpaceX and it turns out the final orbit is actually closer to what SpaceX had originally predicted: a bit past Mars.  The aphelion will be about 158 million miles from the Sun, and it should reach that distance on or around November 19.

This is still far enough that it will still eventually be perturbed by Jupiter, but not as quickly as if it were reaching the asteroid belt.  According to Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University in Belfast, the Falcon upper stage and Tesla payload will likely remain in its current orbit for thousands of years (he did a quick estimate that suggested 10,000 years), but after that the orbit will begin to elongate due to gravitational perturbations.  (Other affects will also be at play, but are harder to predict — the solar wind can impart a force on objects, and solar radiation ablating away material can also significantly affect a small body’s path over long timescales.)  “Most near-Earth asteroids end by solar vaporization or ejection from the solar system by Jupiter. Near Earth Cars should be the same.”

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