It was just over a year ago that SpaceX lofted Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster with the ‘Starman’ dummy passenger into outer space on the maiden flight of the commercial space company’s Falcon Heavy rocket, but will we ever see this space-bound electric supercar again? And if so, when?
Astronomers began crunching numbers to answer this question shortly after Starman launched, but as you might come to expect, it’s never wise to count your chickens before they hatch. Like most things, the Starman-centric data was apt to change, and that it did.
According to some of the latest calculations, Starman will fly within 4.5 million miles of Mars by 2020; sadly, Mars-based telescopes aren’t powerful enough to spy on Starman at this distance. Another Mars-esque flyby will transpire within 1.5 million miles by 2035, and while current Mars-based telescopes won’t be able to see Starman from that distance, it’s hoped that we’ll have more advanced observatories nested on the red planet’s surface by then.
As for Earth… astronomers have calculated that Starman’s next close approach with its home planet will happen in 2047 within 3 million miles. This is close enough for telescopes on Earth to observe and measure the object in space.
But is it possible to return Starman to Earth? The idea of capturing satellites and bringing them back to Earth isn’t unheard of, but it would be particularly challenging to do this with Starman since he’s floating somewhere outside of Earth’s orbit. It’s somewhat unlikely that Starman will be brought back to Earth in the near future, but perhaps technological advances in the distant future could make this possible.