A powerful earth-based interplanetary radar deployed by researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has found India’s maiden moon mission spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 in deep space after over seven years after all communication with the spacecraft was lost.
“We have been able to detect NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar,” Marina Brozovic from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in statement.
“Finding the LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission’s navigators and had precise orbit data about 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 radar scientist said.
“There is practically no atmosphere around the moon to cause any drag on the spacecraft or cause its decay. Since it is in a vacuum it can fly in the same orbit for a very long time — up to 40 years. We lost contact after the power system failed but the spacecraft continues in its orbit,” said former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair who was involved with Chandrayaan-1.
“It is the laws of physics. The spacecraft will continue to go around the moon for a long time,” said another former ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan. According to Nair, the finding of the spacecraft in deep space by an Earth-based telescope deployed by NASA shows that “radar technologies have really advanced”. Earlier, radars could only detect a small object if it was around 500 km from the earth but NASA, which keeps a log of all space objects, has managed to peer deep into space, he said. “If there is an asteroid hurtling towards the Earth only a powerful microwave radar like the interplanetary radar used to spot Chandrayaan-1 can catch it early and help prepare for its arrival,” Nair said.