Elon Musk’s endless Mars agenda continues, and this time he’s really putting his foot on the pedal. Except, literally - because the car is currently in space. In February 2018, Elon Musk’s SpaceX had launched an Earth car: A Tesla Roadster owned by CEO Musk into space. On October 8, 2020, the Tesla Roadster made its first close approach to Mars. The roadster, “driven" by a mannequin dubbed “Starman" wearing a spacesuit, was part of a dummy payload attached to the second stage of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket that launched in 2018. SpaceX had then tweeted that the vehicle made its first close approach with Mars, coming within 5 million miles of the plane. On December 6, 2021, over a year after that first close encounter, Musk took to Twitter to write, “My car is currently orbiting Mars."
My car is currently orbiting Mars— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 4, 2021
But is it? According to Jonathan Dowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the short answer is ‘not really.’
Well, no. It's orbiting the Sun, and occasionally passes the orbit of Mars. Not the same thing.— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) December 4, 2021
How did McDowell know? Dowell calculated the trajectory of the car/rocket combo himself, and then tweeted a follow-up image that depicts the Roadster’s orbital path, and said in a reply that the rocket stopped transmitting data a few days after launch. “We determined the orbital elements soon after launch,” McDowell tweeted. “Kepler’s laws let us propagate them to the present day.
Since it came up today: here is the current position of the Falcon Heavy 001 second stage, with Elon Musk's Tesla bolted to its nose, together with the current positions of Earth and Mars. pic.twitter.com/HSFZveq6jJ— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) December 5, 2021
In 2020, Dowell had told CNN, “It’s a long distance." “Mars would appear about 1/10 the diameter of the Moon, so small but not a point."
Dowell tracked the rocket using NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Horizons system, which has an accurate trajectory calculated from the Falcon 9’s initial orbit as it left Earth. He says that it is in elliptical orbit around the Sun.
The Tesla was supposed to slip into a circular orbit between Mars and the sun. But the mission overshot and ended up on an elliptical path that takes it far past Martian orbit, toward the asteroid belt; it completes an orbit about every 557 days. The car’s trajectory had taken it past Mars orbit before, but at that time the planet was nowhere near the point where Starman intersected its path.
The vehicle and its unlikely passenger, launched on the upper stage of a Falcon Heavy rocket, may travel for millions of years before crashing, most likely back into Earth, according to Business Insider.
They added that the is set to pass close to Earth on November 5, within 52 million kilometers (32 million miles) of our planet. Eventually it will go past Venus and Mercury.
Shortly after the Tesla Roadster launched, three researchers at the University of Toronto calculated that the car would drift through space until it crashes into Earth, Venus, or the sun sometime in the next 10 million years.