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June 23, 2018
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NASA: ISRO’s Chandraayan -1, which lost contact in 2009, found orbiting the moon

DSS-14 is NASA's 70-meter (230-foot) antenna located at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA reported that finding derelict spacecraft and space debris in Earth’s orbit is a technological challenge. And detecting these objects orbiting around our moon is even more difficult. These small objects hide in the bright glare of the moon, making the detection difficult.

However, after great efforts, NASA has successfully located spacecrafts orbiting the moon. Marina Broaović, radar scientist and principal investigator of the test project said, “We have been able to detect NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [LRO] and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar”. She also added, “Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009”.

This computer generated image depicts the Chandrayaan-1’s location.

Generally, the space agency uses the interplanetary radar for observing small asteroids several million miles from Earth. But, researchers were not certain about detecting an object of this smaller size. Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is very small, a cube about five feet on each side. Chandrayaan-1 proved the perfect target for demonstrating the capability of this technique.

The team said that hunting down LRO and rediscovering Chandrayaan-1 provides the start for a unique new capability. The large radar antennas at Goldstone, Arecibo and Green Bank demonstrated that they can detect small spacecrafts in lunar orbit.

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.