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NASA Finds Lost Spacecraft Orbiting The Moon

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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.”

Marina Brozovic

Below you can see an infographic of how NASA uses this technique:

This computer generated image depicts the Chandrayaan-1’s location at time it was detected by the Goldstone Solar System radar on July 2, 2016. In the graphic the 120-mile (200-kilometer) wide purple circle represents the width of the Goldstone radar beam at lunar distance. The radar beam was pointed 103 miles (165 kilometers) off the lunar surface. The white box in the upper-right corner of the animation depicts the strength of echo. As the spacecraft entered and exited the radar beam (purple circle), the echo from the spacecraft alternated between being very strong and very weak, as the radar beam scattered from the flat metal surfaces. Once the spacecraft flew outside the beam, the echo was gone. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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.

Radar imagery acquired of the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft as it flew over the moon’s south pole on July 3, 2016. The imagery was acquired using NASA’s 70-meter (230-foot) antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. This is one of four detections of Chandrayaan-1 from that day.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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