Published: Sat, March 11, 2017
Science | By Kerry Wheeler

NASA radar finds India's lunar spacecraft lost 8 years ago

NASA radar finds India's lunar spacecraft lost 8 years ago

Chandrayaan-1 probe was lost less than one year after its 2008 launch, but now, thanks to help from the US space agency, it has been found again.

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.

But now, almost 8 years after being lost, the lunar spacecraft has been found by the U.S. space agency NASA and is said to be still orbiting the moon. But thanks to a new interplanetary radar technique NASA just found two old space probes - one of which hadn't been seen since 2009.

Through calculations, the Chandrayaan-1 was known to be in an orbit taking it past both poles every two hours and eight minutes.

ISRO's mission was concluded before the spacecraft lost contact. They used this radar to pinpoint the location of Nasa's own Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), but this was easy as they had precise orbital data for the LRO.

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She said the size of India's spacecraft, which may be compared to half a smart auto, made its detection even more challenging. "But otherwise, Chandrayaan-1's orbit still had the shape and alignment that we expected". The Indian lunar spacecraft was more or less where NASA scientists expected it to be.

Radar imagery acquired of India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft as it flew over the moon's south pole on July 3, 2016. 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.

Optical telescopes can not find such small objects because the moon's vast brightness would overwhelm the view of objects passing in front of it. ISRO had lost communication with Chandrayaan-1 on August 29, 2009, and according to NASA's scientists finding it was harder it than finding LRO. Earlier, radars could only detect a small object if it was around 500 km from the earth but NASA, which keeps a log of all space objects, has managed to peer deep into space, he said.

Using the Green Bank Telescope, scientists analyzed the radar beam echoes that bounced back to the Earth, reports Space.com.

Locating Chandrayaan-1 was more of a challenge because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August 2009. Then they made a decision to send microwave beams towards the north pole of the moon using the antenna in the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. It had found the evidence of water ice on the moon's surface. While engineers figure out the problem, this new radar application could keep tabs on it and make sure its orientation and orbit is correct. It would include three objects: an orbiter, lander, and rover.

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