India’s long-lost lunar spacecraft found by NASA

It was back in 2008 that India launched its first lunar orbiter, heralding a major step forward in the national space program, with India becoming the fourth country to place a flag on the moon. Tragedy struck, however, in August 2009 when the orbiter experienced technical difficulties, and on the 28th of the same month its operators received their last contact with the vessel. The endeavour was, for all intents and purposes, over.

India’s long-lost lunar spacecraft found by NASA

Until now, that is. NASA scientists have revealed that, thanks to the body’s new interplanetary radar, they discovered the Chandrayaan-1 still orbiting the moon in June 2016. It’s always the last place you look, eh?

The cubic orbiter, measuring five feet on all sides, was discovered nearly 200km from the lunar surface. Given its compact size, the the Chandrayaan-1 had become a target for a radar experiment carried out by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory team.


The cubic probe had been in lunar orbit before it went missing, so the team of scientists expelled a concentrated beam of microwaves from NASA’s formidable sounding Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex aimed towards the natural satellite’s north pole. The radar echoes that returned were then registered on the other side of the country by the 330-foot Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The telescope picked up on the lunar orbiter twice, noting that the second time it crossed the beam corresponded with time it would have taken for the Chandrayaan-1 to orbit the moon once.

It’s an exciting leap forward in the technological application of ground-based radars. They could, for example, be used as a safety backup for when spacecraft communication goes awry, in both robotic and human missions within a certain range. And for India, it’s a welcome reunion with the Chandrayaan-1, a spacecraft which placed the country on the international space map both literally and figuratively. The probe was only intended to last for two years, achieving a commendable 312 days considering its fledgling status. It carried off its mission with considerable success, achieving an estimated 95% of its objectives, including one which it couldn’t have predicted at all – the validation of NASA’s potentially life-saving interplanetary radar; as far as lunar probes go, it’s a veritably heartwarming tale of symbiosis.

Images: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Jiuguang Wang, used under Creative Commons 

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