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I read recently the original Apollo 11 press release and it mentions that the Saturn V's third stage (used for Trans-Lunar Injection) was deployed into a solar orbit of some kind:

Quote: "Later, leftover liquid propellant in the Saturn third stage will be vented through the engine bell to place the stage into a 'slingshot' trajectory to miss the Moon and go into solar orbit."

(Source: Press Kit - Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission. NASA Release no. 69-83K, page 6.)

I know that on other Apollo missions the third stage was crashed into the Moon ahead of the lunar module's landing to trigger the seismometers left behind by previous missions. Which Apollo flights did this and which ones sent their third stages to wander the solar system? For the ones that went into solar orbits, how well were those orbits measured? Do we know where they are now?

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For those interested, the preliminary science report is also damn cool. The images from the press kit's description of the mission profile have been beautifully put to good use in Wikipedia. – Emilio Pisanty Jan 23 '14 at 15:11
up vote 11 down vote accepted

The third stages of the first four Apollo lunar missions (8, 10, 11 and 12) were placed in a heliocentric orbit, while those of subsequent missions (13 on) were targeted at the moon.

The locations of the orbiting stages are not particularly well known, unless we happen to encounter one, as we did in 2002 when the third stage for Apollo 12 briefly orbited Earth as J002E3, likely due to an incomplete burn resulting in an unstable orbit.

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These are the exact ephemerides of those Saturn Third stages in solar orbit, Note that the Lunar slingshot placed the third stages in orbits of less than 365 days so they are in orbit inward towards the sun from the earth by just a bit.

Any encounter with the Earth Moon system after the following data chart would change that object's orbit

Saturn IVB Solar Trajectory

This data table reports the impact data for the saturn IVB's

Saturn IVB impactors data set

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Those data sheets don't seem to address the location of the stages currently, are those data available also with the NASA pages you link? – Kyle Kanos Dec 24 '15 at 19:33
The stages have now been inert for 40 years, so no tracking! one stage is believed to have been observed to enter the Earth's gravity well a few years ago so its orbit would have changed the others should be in the same orbits the data sheet has them in.One thing though, solar radiation can exert a push on objects so the orbits might have changed just a bit.The short answer is there is no way to really know the current locations – rappolee Dec 24 '15 at 19:38
I dont have enough reputation to link more historical data sheets :) – rappolee Dec 24 '15 at 19:49
Well you can add the links & someone else (if not myself) can add them in. – Kyle Kanos Dec 24 '15 at 20:09

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