With the help of NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, scientists have found a lost Indian space craft orbiting around the moon.
India’s Chandarayaan-1 spacecraft was sent to the moon in October of 2008, and last heard from in August of 2009. Losing space craft in the moons orbit is not uncommon; JPL has even perfected a technique that helps scientists locate space craft over 380,000 kilometers away.
By firing beams of microwaves, and recording the waves that bounce back, the team is able to pinpoint the location of spacecraft in orbit (similar to the way traditional land based radar works).
“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.”
Below you can see an infographic of how NASA uses this technique:
The team used data from the return signal to estimate its velocity and the distance to the target. This information was then used to update the orbital predictions for Chandrayaan-1.
Radar echoes from the spacecraft were obtained seven more times over three months and are in perfect agreement with the new orbital predictions. Some of the follow-up observations were done with the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which has the most powerful astronomical radar system on Earth. Arecibo is operated by the National Science Foundation with funding from NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office for the radar capability.
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