NASA Finds ‘Lost’ Indian Spacecraft

NASA scientists have recently found that India’s first lunar mission – the Chandrayan-1 spacecraft (given up for lost) – is still orbiting the moon.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lost communication with the Chandrayan-1 on August 29, 2009, barely a year after it was launched on October 22, 2008. A couple of days ago, NASA informed the ISRO that Chandrayan-1 was still circling 200km above the lunar surface. In addition to finding the Chandrayan-1, scientists have also located NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around the moon.
It was indeed a tough job for NASA, as the Indian lunar spacecraft has not been transmitting any signals. It was also difficult to detect a spacecraft .38 million kilometre away, as Chandrayan-1 is very small (1.5 metres on each side) – half of the size of a car. ISRO was well aware of the fact that finding derelict spacecraft and space debris in the Earth’s orbit could be a technological challenge. And detecting these objects in the orbit around the Earth’s moon is even more difficult. Optical telescopes are unable to search for small objects hidden in the bright glare of the moon.
However, NASA scientists have successfully located the two spacecraft, orbiting the moon, with the new technological application of interplanetary radar. Although interplanetary radar has been used to observe small asteroids several million miles away from the Earth, researchers were not certain that an object of this smaller size as far away as the moon could be detected (even with the world’s most powerful radars). So, the Chandrayan-1 was the perfect target for demonstrating the capability of this technique.
Marina Brozovic, the Radar Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said that powerful microwaves picked up the Indian spacecraft, orbiting the moon in every 28 minutes. “We have been able to detect NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the ISRO’s Chandrayan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar. Finding Chandrayan-1 required more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009,” she stressed.


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