Lost since 2009, Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 found orbiting moon, claims NASA

Chandrayaan-1 was launched from Sriharikota on October 22, 2008

The Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1, which was considered lost since 2009, was found orbiting the moon by National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said, “Satellite made more than 3400 orbits around the moon and the mission was concluded when the communication with the spacecraft was lost on August 29, 2009”. In the year 2008, Chandrayaan-1 was launched from Sriharikota on October 22. It was India’s first mission to moon.

Chandrayan was found when the scientists at JPL pioneered a new technological application of interplanetary radar to find derelict spacecraft and space debris orbiting the earth. “Optical telescopes are unable to search for small objects hidden in the bright glare of the moon. However, a new technological application of interplanetary radar pioneered by scientists at NASA’s JPL can do so,” a NASA press release said.

With Chandrayan being found, it shows that the technology discovered by the JPL is effective.

Principal investigator and radar scientist at JPL Marina Brozovic said, “We have been able to detect NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar.”

Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009, she added.

Taking cue from the fact that Chandrayaan-1 is in polar orbit around the Moon, the radar team calculated that the spacecraft would take 2 hours 8 minutes to complete one orbit; and when they tested it, the radar signature of a spacecraft did cross the beam twice during four hours of observations—hence, matching that of the Chandrayaan-1 time period.

“Hunting down LRO and rediscovering Chandrayaan-1 have provided the start for a unique new capability. Working together, the large radar antennas at Goldstone, Arecibo and Green Bank demonstrated that they can detect and track even small spacecraft in lunar orbit,” said the press release adding that these ground-based radars would play a pivotal role in future robotic and human missions to the Moon.