India’s first lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1 has been found by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA). What is interesting is that the Chandrayaan-1 was found to be orbiting the Moon in an orbit over 200 km from the surface. The Lunar Probe and NASA’s own Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter(LRO) were found using a new technology.
Finding objects such as non-functional satellites and debris has always been a difficult prospect with quite a bit of technological issues. Also with the glare from Moon, this process is rendered impossible for Optical telescopes when it comes to finding objects around Moon. However, with the new technology giving promising results, there is a hope that it can be used to assist in future missions to Moon.
Chandrayaan-1, which is a small probe measuring just about 5 feet(1.5 metres) each side, proved to be a tricky find. Since the connection to the lunar probe was lost in less than a year after it was launched, i.e. in 2009, researchers were not sure if it could be found. Marina Brozović, a radar scientist at Jet Propulsion Lab(JPL), California who was the principal investigator for the project said in a state,”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.”
The Chandrayaan-1 find seems to have proved the capabilities of the interplanetary radar which have been previously used to observe small asteroids. But to find an object as small as Chandrayaan-1 is a feat on its own!
To look for the lunar probe, NASA used its 70-metre antenna at its California complex for sending microwaves beam towards the Moon. The echoes that bounced back from the lunar orbit were received by another telescope in West Virginia. To ensure the find, the researchers made some orbital calculations to ascertain a rough idea of the position of probe around the polar orbit of the Moon.
After the radar echoes were taken, a bit of follow-up observation was done at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is known to house the most powerful astronomical radar system on the planet.
With the find of the two lunar probes, a new boost may be possible in terms of working capability with the various radars working in tandem. Future robotic or human missions will certainly benefit from the use of the technology, both as a safety mechanism and as a collision hazard assessment tool.