NASA's Latest Technique Finds Lost Spacecraft In The Lunar Orbit

China announced plans to launch a space probe to bring back samples from the moon before the end of the year in what state media cast as competition to U.S. President Donald Trump's ambitions to revitalise U.S. space exploration. The Chang'e 3 probe is

The Indian spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, that was being considered as lost since 2009, was found orbiting the moon by National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. But thanks to a new interplanetary radar technique NASA just found two old space probes - one of which hadn't been seen since 2009.

The interplanetary radar has found that Chandrayaan-1 is still circling some 200 km above the lunar surface.

Isro had launched Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008 for orbital studies of the moon through cameras and other instruments.

With Chandrayaan-1, the radar team utilized the fact that this spacecraft is in polar orbit around the moon, so it would always cross above the lunar poles on each orbit.

Chandrayaan-1 was located using NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California and a beam of microwaves.

"Finding Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because last contact with the spacecraft was in August 2009", Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and principal investigator of the test project, said in a JPL media release.

She said the size of India's spacecraft, which may be compared to half a smart vehicle, made its detection even more challenging.

The spacecraft is a cube shape which measures roughly 1.5 metres on each side.

An artist's conception of Chandrayaan-1 orbiting the moon.

An object with the signature of the small orbiter crossed these signals. NASA's scientists were looking at the moon from Earth (a distance of 237,000 miles) attempting to find this tiny spec of an object. The radar echoes bounced back were received by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Finding LRO was less of a challenge and more of a proof of concept; it's an active spacecraft, so precise location data from the mission's navigators guided the search, detection team members said.

If you want to find the exact location of something orbiting the moon, just looking with an optical telescope is hard, because the moon is so bright it overwhelms the view of any object passing in front of or nearby it.

This computer-generated image shows the Chandrayaan-1 moon orbiter's location when it was detected by NASA's Goldstone Solar System radar on July 2, 2016.

Chandrayaan-1's orbit profile. But after a few more trips around the moon, who knows where it might have gotten to? 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.

Indian scientists have also used Chandrayaan-1's camera imagery to discover lunar caves that some have predicted could be potential sites for future human settlements.

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