Rocket Report: Billionaire backs Scottish spaceport, Relativity bags a bundle

Images of Electron rocket.
Enlarge / Rocket Lab’s Catch of the Day recovery vessel nears the Electron rocket’s first stage.

Welcome to Edition 3.24 of the Rocket Report! It’s December, and we could see a number of big smallsat launches this month, including from Virgin Orbit and Astra. But in the immediate future, our eyes are on South Texas, where a Starship prototype is due to make a high leap early next week.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Aevum unveils its Ravn X launch system. Until now, Aevum has largely operated in the background. But now, it’s ready to show off some hardware, and it’s starting with the “Ravn X” launch system’s first stage, Ars reports. This autonomous aircraft and launch vehicle measures 24 meters long and has a wingspan of 18 meters. It has a gross takeoff mass of 25,000kg—massive for an uncrewed aerial vehicle. It will drop a rocket capable of carrying 100kg to Sun-synchronous orbit.

Seeking to make satellite delivery a commodity … The company is targeting next year for its first launch. Even as it has finalized the Ravn X first stage, Aevum has been developing a rocket with two liquid-fueled engines for its main stage, each with 5,000 pounds of thrust, and a single upper-stage engine. These engines have been hot-fire tested beyond their full duration burns and have gone through qualification and acceptance testing, the company said. Aevum claims it has secured launch contracts worth more than $1 billion over the next decade, including the Air Force’s ASLON-45 mission.

Virgin Orbit sets date for second launch attempt. On Monday, Virgin Orbit announced it would try a second orbital flight of its LauncherOne rocket on Saturday, December 19. The four-hour window will open at 10am PT (18:00 UTC). During the company’s first demo flight last May, the rocket was successfully dropped from its carrier aircraft, and its engine ignited for a few seconds before running out of LOX due to a blocked line.

This time, there will be a customer … That mission carried no payloads, but this one will. Through its Venture Class Launch Services program, NASA is providing nine CubeSat missions comprising 10 total spacecraft to fly on the Launch Demo 2 mission. The company said it still has to conduct a wet dress rehearsal before embarking upon its launch attempt. Good luck! (submitted by Ken the Bin)

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Relativity Space adds $500 million to funding coffers. The launch company that aims to 3D-print nearly the entirety of its rockets announced it had closed the large series D

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NASA says mysterious ‘mini-moon’ is actually a 1960s rocket booster

centaurupperstage1964

This photo from 1964 shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket. Space object 2020 SO is one of these.


NASA

Welcome back, Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster. We just got a new chapter in a bittersweet space saga that involves a fiery launch, a doomed moon mission and decades of space wanderings. 

A rocket booster NASA used to launch the Surveyor 2 lunar lander in 1966 has returned to us for a temporary spin as a mini-moon in orbit around Earth. When scientists spotted it in September, they named it 2020 SO. On Wednesday, NASA announced the strange object has been positively identified as the ’60s booster.

While the booster did its job admirably back in 1966, the lander didn’t survive a crash landing on the moon’s surface.   

The booster’s specific orbit around the sun tipped astronomers off that it probably wasn’t an asteroid, one of the many space rocks that zip around our cosmic neighborhood. Some sleuthing tracked the booster back to near Earth in 1966. 

Telescope observations have now revealed the stainless steel composition of 2020 SO. This cosmic detective work involved comparing spectrum data on the enigmatic object with data gathered on a known Centaur rocker booster that’s been floating around in space since 1971. It was a match. 

The object has attracted a lot of interest due to the mystery surrounding it and the fact that it was captured into an Earth orbit that makes it a cute little visiting mini-moon. The Virtual Telescope Project livestreamed 2020 SO when it came in close to Earth on Nov. 30.

The Centaur booster will stick around with us for a few months, but is expected to continue its space adventures back in orbit around the sun sometime in March 2021. At which point we can all say, “Goodnight, Centaur. Goodnight, mini-moon.”


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Elon Musk says SpaceX’s new Starship rocket has 33% chance of success

  • SpaceX is planning to fly a Starship rocket prototype to its highest altitude yet this weekend, according to road closures and a Notice to Airmen issued for the aerospace company’s launch site in southern Texas. 
  • The spacecraft should fly 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) into the air. Previous prototypes have only made short hops of about 150 meters (492 feet).
  • SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said there was a lot that could go wrong, and gave the rocket a one-in-three chance of landing in one piece.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

This weekend, Elon Musk’s space-exploration company, SpaceX, is poised to take a big step forward in its quest to further revolutionize space travel.

Musk tweeted on Sunday that a prototype of SpaceX’s enormous Starship spacecraft — a fully reusable vehicle the company wants to use to send humans to the moon and Mars — will soon undergo its first high-altitude test.

The flight attempt to 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), follows a successful November 24 rocket-engine test firing of the Starship prototype, called SN8 or serial no. 8. The test also comes after a successful “hop” flight in August to roughly 150 meters (492 feet) using a previous prototype called SN5.

On Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for a rocket launch from the Boca Chica Village in southern Texas, where SpaceX is developing Starship, from Friday at 8 a.m. CT through Sunday at 5 p.m. CT.

However, both a NOTAM and road closures are required for launch. The Cameron County judge has issued Boca Chica road-closure notices for every weekday through December 9, but the only overlap with the NOTAM is Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT.

Musk: ‘Maybe 1/3 chance’ of a successful flight and landing

SpaceX Starship.JPG

A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas (September 28, 2019).

REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare


This test flight will be a big step in testing whether the design can withstand the rigors of flights to higher altitudes.

Musk said in a follow-up tweet on Wednesday that a “lot of things need to go right” for SN8 to land intact, adding that he thinks there’s “maybe 1/3 chance” that it does.

However, should SN8 fail, SpaceX’s Starship factory is cranking out more prototypes, and SN9 could soon be ready to take its place for future testing.

Read more: SpaceX may spend billions to outsource Starlink satellite-dish production, an industry insider says — and could lose $2,000 on each one it sells

SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft is made up of two sections, the Super Heavy booster and the Starship rocket ship, which Musk claims will be able to carry 100 people to Mars at a time. The entire spacecraft stands at 120 metres (394 feet) tall. 

In October, Musk said SpaceX has a “fighting chance” of sending an uncrewed Starship rocket to Mars in 2024, two years later than previously hoped. 

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer said October 23 the Starship

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NASA confirms mysterious object orbiting Earth is 1960s-era rocket booster

The mystery is finally over — the space object that was captured by Earth’s orbit is indeed a rocket booster from the 1960s, NASA confirmed.

On Wednesday, the government space agency said the object known as “2020 SO” is not an asteroid, but rather a part of a Centaur rocket booster from the Surveyor 2 spacecraft, which launched toward the moon in 1966.

“Due to extreme faintness of this object following [Center for Near-Earth Object Studies] prediction it was a challenging object to characterize,” said Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor and planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, in a statement. “We got color observations with the Large Binocular Telescope or LBT that suggested 2020 SO was not an asteroid.” 

This 1964 photograph shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket before being mated to an Atlas booster. A similar Centaur was used during the launch of "Surveyor 2" two years later. Credit: NASA

This 1964 photograph shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket before being mated to an Atlas booster. A similar Centaur was used during the launch of “Surveyor 2” two years later. Credit: NASA

MYSTERIOUS OBJECT THAT COULD BE 1960S ROCKET BOOST WILL FLY PAST EARTH TODAY: HOW TO VIEW IT

“This conclusion was the result of a tremendous team effort,” Reddy added. “We were finally able to solve this mystery because of the great work of Pan-STARRS, Paul Chodas and the team at CNEOS, LBT, [Infrared Telescope Facility], and the observations around the world.”

On Tuesday, the rocket booster made its closest brush with Earth, when it came within 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles) of the planet, according to Virtual Telescope Project founder Gianluca Masi.

NASA has posted a video of 2020 SO’s looping orbits around the Earth.

Unfortunately, the Surveyor 2 never completed its journey, crashing on the lunar surface on Sept. 23, 1966. However, the Centaur booster “sailed past the Moon and disappeared into an unknown orbit about the Sun,” NASA said previously.

The rocket booster was initially discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey on Sept. 17, 2020 and announced two days later.

2020 SO initially “slowly drifted” into Earth’s Hill sphere on Nov. 8, 2020, and will remain there for roughly four months before it goes back into orbit around the sun in March 2021.

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NASA: Mystery object is 54-year-old rocket, not asteroid

Scientists have confirmed that a mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday.

The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 32 feet (10 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.

“Today’s news was super gratifying!,” Chodas said via email. “It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle.”

The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles (50,476 kilometers). It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036.

———

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Mystery object is 54-year-old rocket, not asteroid

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday.



FILE - This Sept. 20, 1966 photo provided by the San Diego Air and Space Museum shows an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is the Centaur upper stage of this 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Convair/General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection/San Diego Air and Space Museum via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
FILE – This Sept. 20, 1966 photo provided by the San Diego Air and Space Museum shows an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is the Centaur upper stage of this 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Convair/General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection/San Diego Air and Space Museum via AP)

Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 32 feet (10 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.



In this Aug. 13, 1965 photo provided by the San Diego Air and Space Museum, technicians work on an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a Centaur 7 upper stage rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Convair/General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection/San Diego Air and Space Museum via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
In this Aug. 13, 1965 photo provided by the San Diego Air and Space Museum, technicians work on an Atlas Centaur 7 rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla. A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a Centaur 7 upper stage rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Convair/General Dynamics Astronautics Atlas Negative Collection/San Diego Air and Space Museum via AP)

Chodas was proven right after a team led by the University of Arizona’s Vishnu Reddy used an infrared telescope in Hawaii to observe not only the mystery object, but — just on Tuesday — a Centaur from 1971 still orbiting Earth. The data from the images matched.

“Today’s news was super gratifying!,” Chodas said via email. “It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle.”

The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles (50,476 kilometers). It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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NASA determines mystery space object 2020 SO is a ’60s rocket booster

centaurupperstage1964

This photo from 1964 shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket. Space object 2020 SO is one of these.


NASA

Welcome back, Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster. We just got a new chapter in a bittersweet space saga that involves a fiery launch, a doomed moon mission and decades of space wanderings. 

A rocket booster NASA used to launch the Surveyor 2 lunar lander in 1966 has returned to us for a temporary spin as a mini-moon in orbit around Earth. When scientists spotted it in September, they named it 2020 SO. On Wednesday, NASA announced the strange object has been positively identified as the ’60s booster.

While the booster did its job admirably back in 1966, the lander didn’t survive a crash landing on the moon’s surface.   

The booster’s specific orbit around the sun tipped astronomers off that it probably wasn’t an asteroid, one of the many space rocks that zip around our cosmic neighborhood. Some sleuthing tracked the booster back to near Earth in 1966. 

Telescope observations have now revealed the stainless steel composition of 2020 SO. This cosmic detective work involved comparing spectrum data on the enigmatic object with data gathered on a known Centaur rocker booster that’s been floating around in space since 1971. It was a match. 

The object has attracted a lot of interest due to the mystery surrounding it and the fact that it was captured into an Earth orbit that makes it a cute little visiting mini-moon. The Virtual Telescope Project livestreamed 2020 SO when it came in close to Earth on Nov. 30.

The Centaur booster will stick around with us for a few months, but is expected to continue its space adventures back in orbit around the sun sometime in March 2021. At which point we can all say, “Goodnight, Centaur. Goodnight, mini-moon.”


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SpaceX’s next Starship rocket may soar to 15 kilometers this weekend, but Elon Musk says there’s a 2-in-3 chance the flight may fail



a man standing in front of a tall building: SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is building and launching Starship prototypes in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX; Mark Brake/Getty Images; Business Insider


© Provided by Business Insider
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is building and launching Starship prototypes in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX; Mark Brake/Getty Images; Business Insider

  • SpaceX is planning to fly a Starship rocket prototype to its highest altitude yet this weekend, according to road closures and a Notice to Airmen issued for the aerospace company’s launch site in southern Texas. 
  • The spacecraft should fly 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) into the air. Previous prototypes have only made short hops of about 150 meters (492 feet).
  • SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said there was a lot that could go wrong, and gave the rocket a one-in-three chance of landing in one piece.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

This weekend, Elon Musk’s space-exploration company, SpaceX, is poised to take a big step forward in its quest to further revolutionize space travel.

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Musk tweeted on Sunday that a prototype of SpaceX’s enormous Starship spacecraft — a fully reusable vehicle the company wants to use to send humans to the moon and Mars — will soon undergo its first high-altitude test.

The flight attempt to 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), follows a successful November 24 rocket-engine test firing of the Starship prototype, called SN8 or serial no. 8. The test also comes after a successful “hop” flight in August to roughly 150 meters (492 feet) using a previous prototype called SN5.

On Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for a rocket launch from the Boca Chica Village in southern Texas, where SpaceX is developing Starship, from Friday at 8 a.m. CT through Sunday at 5 p.m. CT.

However, both a NOTAM and road closures are required for launch. The Cameron County judge has issued Boca Chica road-closure notices for every weekday through December 9, but the only overlap with the NOTAM is Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT.

Musk: ‘Maybe 1/3 chance’ of a successful flight and landing



a flock of birds flying over a building: A prototype of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft at the company's facility in Boca Chica, Texas (September 28, 2019). REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare


© REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare
A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas (September 28, 2019). REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare

This test flight will be a big step in testing whether the design can withstand the rigors of flights to higher altitudes.

Musk said in a follow-up tweet on Wednesday that a “lot of things need to go right” for SN8 to land intact, adding that he thinks there’s “maybe 1/3 chance” that it does.

However, should SN8 fail, SpaceX’s Starship factory is cranking out more prototypes, and SN9 could soon be ready to take its place for future testing.

Read more: SpaceX may spend billions to outsource Starlink satellite-dish production, an industry insider says — and could lose $2,000 on each one it sells

SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft is made up of two sections, the Super Heavy booster and the Starship rocket ship, which Musk claims will be able to carry 100 people to Mars at a time. The entire spacecraft stands at 120 metres (394 feet) tall. 

In October, Musk said SpaceX has a

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How Boeing is building the world’s most powerful deep-space rocket

When NASA sends the first woman and the next man to the moon, those astronauts won’t just be the first humans to land on the lunar surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, they’ll also be riding atop the biggest and most powerful rocket in NASA’s history: the Space Launch System, built by Boeing.

The SLS will stand taller than the Statue of Liberty when it’s ready to take off from the launchpad with the crew of NASA’s Artemis program. And with almost 9 million pounds of thrust, it will be powerful enough to carry a 38-metric ton payload to the moon.


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According to Matt Duggan, mission management and operation manager for the Boeing Company, the Space Launch System is a key piece of technology that will enable humans to travel farther into space and for longer periods. 

“The reason we need larger and larger rockets, as we go further and further into space, is that we want to take more and more stuff with us as we go,” Duggan said in an interview for CNET’s Now What series. “You’re going to pack differently if you’re going on a monthlong trip, than if you’re going on an overnight trip.

“That’s where the SLS comes in. It can carry these huge, huge payloads … and include all the supplies that humans need to live and work in deep space.”

sls-2

An artist’s image of the SLS, shortly after launch. 


NASA

That ability to carry large payloads isn’t just vital for carrying crew and cargo to the moon, but also for future missions to Mars. Unlike previous rockets developed for NASA missions, the SLS will be able to carry entire payloads, pre-assembled, to deep space so that supplies are ready to go on Mars as humans arrive. 

While the team working on the SLS includes veterans who worked on the space shuttle program and the International Space Station (and the design of the SLS itself incorporates parts used on shuttle missions) a lot has changed since those earlier spacecraft were built. 

nowwhat-logo.png

This interview is part of CNET’s Now What series, covering the leaders and trends shaping the world.

“It’s never been done before quite this way,” said Duggan “We’re taking advantage of the very best, most modern engineering practices that we have today. And I think that’s a huge advantage we have now over the people who — successfully, of course — but who designed Saturn V. That was a rocket where you had people doing designs on paper, doing calculations by hand, and making parts by hand. 

“We can do as much analysis in a single day as they did on their entire program over years. And with computer-aided manufacturing, we can build parts that are so precise, that they’re literally sculpted to be

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Astronomer Captures Possible Image of NASA’s Long-Lost Centaur Rocket Booster

A possible image of NASA’s lost Centaur upper stage rocket booster, launched in 1966.

A possible image of NASA’s lost Centaur upper stage rocket booster, launched in 1966.
Image: Gianluca Masi, an astronomer with the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0

A tiny mystery object is zipping past the Earth today, providing astronomers with an excellent opportunity to finally confirm it as being the upper stage of a Centaur rocket that was launched by NASA in 1966.

Is it or isn’t it? This is the question that astronomers have been asking since September, when scientists with the Pan-STARRS1 survey in Maui, Hawai’i, first spotted the object, named 2020 SO. Astronomers have good reason to believe it’s returning space junk, specifically a Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster dating back to the 1960s. Trouble is, they haven’t actually been able to prove it.

2020 SO normally orbits the Sun, but Earth’s gravity has, albeit temporarily, turned this object into an artificial minimoon. The object will complete a pair of orbits around our planet before it adopts a new orbit around the Sun, but today (December 1, 2020) is a special day, as the object is making its closest approach to Earth.

Gianluca Masi, an astronomer with the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0—a group that uses remotely controlled telescopes to observe space—took the opportunity to capture a photo of the object last night.

“I managed to get a tracked image of the object, but also a trail [upper left in the photo] and the latter shows a dotted pattern, basically a bright dot, followed by a fainter one and so on,” Masi explained in an email. “This suggests the object was rotating, with a period of about 10 seconds.”

Masi said he’ll have more to share soon, so we’re looking forward to that.

Looking at the image, we still can’t be sure that we’re gazing upon the lost rocket booster, but we so want to believe that it is. The purpose of NASA’s Surveyor 2 mission was to examine the lunar surface prior to the Apollo missions. Launched on September 20, 1966, the mission started well, but on the second day, a thruster on Surveyor 2 failed to ignite, throwing the spacecraft into a spin. Surveyor 2 crashed onto the lunar surface, while the Centaur upper stage drifted past the Moon and into an unknown orbit around the Sun.

After that, no one gave it much thought.

NASA’s Surveyor program was actually quite successful, despite two failures out of seven attempts to perform soft landings on the lunar surface between 1966 and 1968. You can learn more about these missions here.

A Centaur second-stage rocket during assembly in 1962.

A Centaur second-stage rocket during assembly in 1962.
Image: NASA

Soon after 2020 SO was spotted by PanSTARRs, astronomers at the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory flagged the object on account of its unexpected behavior. The object’s orbit was more Earth-like than asteroid-like, featuring a nearly circular orbit within Earth’s orbital plane. That’s not typically seen in asteroids.

Additional observations showed that

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