Using a beam of microwaves, Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California have managed to find a “lost” Indian spacecraft in orbit around the Moon. By sending the microwaves to the moon and recording the waves that bounced back, they detected two space crafts 237,000 miles away—a technique that could be used for tracking in the future.
The “living” spacecraft was NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been in lunar orbit since 2009. Because its orbital characteristics were well known, scientists were able to work with the team’s navigators to track it down with microwaves. Using the same technique, they set out on a hunt for India’s Chandarayaan-1 spacecraft, which was launched to the Moon in October 2008. It was last heard from in August 2009.
Finding LRO was relatively easy
“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 said in a statement. “Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work…”
To find its location, the scientists noted that the spacecraft—just half the size of a car—had been in polar orbit around the Moon. They knew its orbital period and its altitude, so they fired their beam of microwaves 160 kilometers above the Moon’s north pole. Luckily, the spacecraft’s radar signature crossed the beam twice in four hours of observations.
It has reportedly shifted its orbit by a half-cycle since 2009 but was otherwise circulating the Moon in the same orbit. The team is optimistic that this method could be useful for future missions to the Moon.