How NASA Found Chandrayaan-1 After Eight Years

NASA Wins Hide-and-Seek Game With Lost Lunar Spacecraft

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) made a decision to "find" the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter to test some new tracking hardware that was being developed.

Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, California, said its scientists had used ground-based radar to locate Chandrayaan-1, which was dormant but still in its lunar orbit. However searching for derelict spacecraft and space debris in a lunar orbit, at least with optical telescopes, is challenging due to its bright glare.

While interplanetary radar has been used to see small asteroids several million miles from Earth, researchers were unsure it could detect an even smaller object as far away as the moon.

Chandrayaan-1 was predicted to complete one orbit every two hours and eight minutes, and the Nasa team did observe something with the radar signature of a small spacecraft cross the radar beam twice over four hours of observations.

Apparently it also tricky to find objects near the moon because once a spacecraft is lost in the lunar orbit, it soon gets pulled in by the moon's gravity and then crash lands. Apparently, it was easy for the new radar technology to detect LRO because astronomers were working with the navigators of the spacecraft and, thus, they had the correct orbit data where it was located.

Both NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 (the first lunar craft India ever sent to space) were launched in the late 2000s. The mission consisted of an orbiting spacecraft and a lunar impactor.




JPL's orbital calculations indicated that Chandrayaan-1 is still circling some 124 miles (200 kilometers) above the lunar surface, but it was generally considered lost.

As the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is very small, a cube about 1.5 metres on each side, it is indeed an achievement for the interplanetary radar. While the latter was an active one, Chandrayaan was a hard bet as the contact with it had been lost for nearly a decade now. "Finding India's Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in 2009", said Marina Brozovic, a scientist at the California-based laboratory.

The remote sensing lunar satellite had a mass of 1,380 kg (3,040 lb) at launch and 675 kg (1,488 lb) in lunar orbit.

Mascons pepper the moon's surface.

You probably remember Chandrayaan-1 as one of India's most ambitious missions at the time.

The satellite was discovered using an inter-planetary radar. "This new technique could assist planners of future moon missions", a recent NASA report said. "But otherwise, Chandrayaan-1's orbit still had the shape and alignment that we expected". It would include three objects: an orbiter, lander, and rover.

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