NASA Just Found a Lost Spacecraft Orbiting the Moon

Nasa scientists have used new technology to discover India's lost lunar spacecraft is still orbiting the moon. It was assigned a two-year mission.

The scientists used the return signal to estimate Chandrayaan-1's speed and distance and updated the orbital predictions for the spacecraft.

But on Thursday, NASA scientists announced that they found Chandrayaan-1 and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter 237,000 miles above the Earth's surface while scanning the lunar poles.

But finding the discovery of the tiny five-foot Indian satellite, which lost contact in August 2009, is an incredible feat for science. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), who was the owner and operator of the lunar mission later declared the spaceship as "lost" after it mislaid communication with the spacecraft on 29th August 2009. Objects like Chandrayaan-1 are hard to find because the mountains and other "mass concentrations" on the moon with high gravitational pull can significantly change a spacecraft's orbit.

These are not easy to find via optical telescopes because they are too small and with the bright glare of the Moon finding these objects is even more hard.

The researchers used the 230-foot (70 meters) antenna at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California to beam microwaves toward the moon in July 2016.

NASA said these large radar antennas demonstrated that they can detect and track small spacecraft in lunar orbit. According to the best calculations, Chandrayaan-1 was still in lunar orbit at an altitude of about 124 mi (200 km) with a period of about two hours and eight minutes, but exactly where was unknown, so it was officially classified as lost. The moon is decidedly unhealthy for runaway satellites and it has regions of higher than average gravitational pool, that can cause the latter to crash into the surface of the celestial body.

The challenge posed by Chandrayaan-1 was that nobody knew where it was coupled with the fact this is a very small cube spacecraft measuring only 1.5 meters wide. "Hunting down LRO and rediscovering Chandrayaan-1 have provided the start for a unique new capability". "But otherwise, Chandrayaan-1's orbit still had the shape and alignment that we expected".

Follow-up observations were also conducted with the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which has the most powerful astronomical radar system on Earth, to help track the spacecraft. "However, a new technological application of interplanetary radar pioneered by scientists at NASA's JPL can do so". Radar echoes then bounced back from the moon's orbit and were received by the 330-foot Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.

In 2009, the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft made history as India's first unmanned lunar spacecraft.

  • Tracy Ferguson