Using a new ground-based radar technique, NASA scientists have found India’s first lunar probe – the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft – which was considered lost.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lost communication with Chandrayaan-1 on August 29, 2009, almost a year after it was launched on October 22, 2008.
Now, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California have successfully located the spacecraft still circling some 200 kilometres above the lunar surface.
“We have been able to detect NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar,” said Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at JPL and principal investigator for the test project.
“Finding LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission’s navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located. Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009,” said Brozovic.
The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is very small, a cube about 1.5 meters on each side – about half the size of a smart car.
Although the interplanetary radar has been used to observe small asteroids several million miles from 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.