Published: Sat, March 11, 2017
Science | By Guadalupe Butler

NASA finds lost Chandrayaan-1 orbiting Moon

NASA finds lost Chandrayaan-1 orbiting Moon

Apart from Chandrayaan-1, the scientists have also located NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around moon.

The development comes nearly eight years after Chandrayaan-1 stopped sending radio signals in August 2009 due to which Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was forced to declare the mission over.

Using the latest ground-based radar techniques, the scientists were able to locate two spacecrafts which were orbiting around the moon. The first spacecraft found was the LRO, which is still active and is transmitting location information back to mission control in Pasadena, so it wasn't actually "lost" so much as considered so for test purposes. They have also located NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which too is around the Moon. Coupled with the large radar antennas at Goldstone and Green Bank, by working together to rediscover Chandrayaan-1 and hunt down LRO, researchers have shown that it is possible to track and detect small spacecraft in lunar orbit that could otherwise pose a potential collisional hazard.

The second spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, went silent in 2009 and though the specifications of its orbit were well known, finding it was another matter. "Finding Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August 2009". But derelict spacecraft, especially one as small as Chandrayaan-1 (it is a cube about five feet on each side), are far more hard to find, which makes this JPL technique even more significant.

These are not easy to find via optical telescopes because they are too small and with the bright glare of the Moon finding these objects is even more hard. Nevertheless, to track a spaceship situated at about 237,000 miles away, the team from JPL used NASA's 230-foot antenna at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. Chandrayaan-1 was predicted to complete one orbit around the moon every two hours and eight minutes.

"Finding a derelict spacecraft at lunar distance that has not been tracked for years is tricky because the moon is riddled with mascons (regions with higher-than-average gravitational pull) that can dramatically affect a spacecraft's orbit over time, and even cause it to have crashed into the moon", JPL notes.

The challenge posed by Chandrayaan-1 was that nobody knew where it was coupled with the fact this is a very small cube spacecraft measuring only 1.5 meters wide. While engineers figure out the problem, this new radar application could keep tabs on it and make sure its orientation and orbit is correct. "The mission is definitely over", Project Director of the Chandrayaan-1 mission M Annadurai was quoted as saying.

Powerful radar beamed from Earth has found a tiny Indian moon probe that last contacted its handlers more than seven years ago.

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