Published: Sat, March 11, 2017
Science | By Boyd Webster

Nasa discovers India's lost lunar spacecraft orbiting the moon

Nasa discovers India's lost lunar spacecraft orbiting the moon

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. 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 space agency has historically had a lot of trouble detecting objects that are orbiting around our own moon, something that becomes essentially impossible when referring to small objects in the moon's bright glare.

"In this handout photograph provided by the Indian Space Research Organization, India" s maiden lunar mission Chandrayaan-1, or Moon Craft in ancient Sanskrit, is seen successfully taking off at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, about 100 kilometers (63 miles) north of Chennai, India, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008. But in July, Isro officials said a star sensor -an electronic eye that helps point the spacecraft's antenna and cameras in the right directions - malfunctioned.

Such objects are especially a challenge to find because the moon is filled with regions with high gravitational pull that can drastically change a spacecraft's orbit.

NASA reported how it used the 70-meter antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications complex in the Mojave Desert to detect India's Chandrayaan-1, which lost contact with earth nearly a decade ago.

The cube-shaped Chandrayaan-1, roughly half the size of a Smart vehicle, was discovered orbiting the moon 124 miles above the surface.

It made history as India's first unmanned lunar spacecraft. However, the report published by NASA says that the spacecraft is still circling the Moon. Chandrayaan-1 was in an orbit over both of the moon's poles doing 3D mapping and other imaging processes, pursuing the hunch that one of the two poles would have frozen water hidden in its dusty gray plains.

According to Nasa, to find the spacecraft 3.80 lakh km away, the JPL team used its 70-metre antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. Now, after 8 years, US' space agency NASA has found the Chandrayaan 1.

The main objectives of the Chandrayaan-1 were to test the impact of a sub-satellite (Moon Impact Probe - MIP) on the surface on the Moon as a fore-runner to future soft-landing missions and also to detect water-ice on the Moon. It was assigned a two-year mission.

But the scientists at JPL realized they did know where Chandrayaan-1 would be. "Hunting down LRO and rediscovering Chandrayaan-1 have provided the start for a unique new capability".

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