NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said it has located its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft after disappearing for years.
JPL said scientists found the spacecrafts orbiting the moon by using a new technological application found on ground-based interplanetary radar.
“Finding LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission’s navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located,” Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at JPL, said in a statement. “Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009.”
The Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1, which is a five-foot cube, launched on October 22, 2008, and NASA’s LRO launched on June 18, 2009.
JPL, which is located in the California Institute of Technology, said scientists found Chandrayaan-1 about 124 miles above the moon’s surface, but the spacecraft is considered lost. The spacecraft is more than 230,000 miles away.
To find the spacecraft, JPL used the 230-foot antenna in NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California to send out a powerful beam of microwaves toward the moon. Radar echoes then bounced back from the moon’s orbit and were received by the 330-foot Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.
The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is operated by the National Science Foundation with NASA funding, and has the most powerful astronomical radar system on Earth, conducted follow-up observations.
“Hunting down LRO and rediscovering Chandrayaan-1 have provided the start for a unique new capability. Working together, the large radar antennas at Goldstone, Arecibo and Green Bank demonstrated that they can detect and track even small spacecraft in lunar orbit,” JPL said in a statement. “Ground-based radars could possibly play a part in future robotic and human missions to the moon, both for a collisional hazard assessment tool and as a safety mechanism for spacecraft that encounter navigation or communication issues.”
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