NASA finds missing spacecraft using ground-based radar

The new technology will be vital for new lunar missions, reported CNN.

The Indian spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, that was being considered as lost since 2009, was found orbiting the moon by National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Finding the LRO was cool enough, but the JPL pulled off something even more exciting: it found Chandrayaan-1, an Indian Space Research Organization probe that has been dead for well over 7 years, coasting silently in an endless loop around the moon. As well as being able to detect very small spacecraft, the radar system could collision map the moon before robots or even humans visit there again.

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.

Through calculations, the Chandrayaan-1 was known to be in an orbit taking it past both poles every two hours and eight minutes. "Finding India's Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009", the radar scientist said.

In finding Chandrayaan-1 in deep space, NASA's interplanetary radar scientists have virtually spotted a 1.5 metre-sized cube travelling almost 386,000 km from the earth. It successfully entered a lunar orbit in November 2008, but in August 2009 things started to go wrong.

"Chandrayaan-1 was our first interplanetary mission and I am delighted that it has been found".

Nasa scientists predicted the orbit of Chandrayaan-1 and targeted the microwave beam in the area where they expected to see the spacecraft.

The spacecraft came equipped with high-resolution remote sensing equipment for surveying the lunar surface and mapping the moon's chemical characteristics. If anything was out there, it would bounce the signal back to the 330-foot Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

An artist's conception of Chandrayaan-1 orbiting the moon. This was confirmed by seven more tracks over three months as well as independent observations using the more powerful radar of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

First, the team at JPL used orbital estimates to make an educated guess at where Chandrayaan-1 might be, some 124 miles above the Moon and in a polar orbit. 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 impactor's violent arrival on the moon in November 2008 revealed evidence of water ice on the lunar surface.

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