Mar 14, 2017 03:30 AM EDT
NASA stumbled upon India's first lunar spacecraft that went missing less than a decade ago. Chandrayaan-1 is among two of missing spacecraft that the US space agency found recently. The other finding is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/LRO. Based on ground-based radar readings, both spacecraft are still in orbit but one of them is dormant.
According to Marina Brozovic of Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, it is easier to locate the LRO since they have an on-hand orbit data. Further, they can triangulate with the navigators of the space mission. On the contrary, spotting Chandrayaan-1 is more challenging.
Chandrayaan-1 lost contact in August of 2009 and no signal came from the spacecraft ever since. Considering the relatively small size of the lunar explorer which is about half the size of a car, NASA described the finding as remarkable. Moon's erratic gravitational pull which is high in some regions is also drastically changing any spacecraft's orbit, CNN reported.
Interplanetary radars like the one used by NASA to spot LRO and Chandrayaan-1 can detect small asteroids from several million miles in space. However, locating missing spacecraft is a different story. Not only because of their size, but moon's bright glare also diminishes visibility. India's space probe forerunner Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan affirmed that the re-discovery is indeed remarkable, India Times reported.
To recall, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced in 2003 that India is joining the space exploration race and will deploy Chandrayaan-1. The spacecraft launched in October 2008 and had initial success when its Impact Probe reached moon's south pole after 15 days. But then after barely a year in orbit, Chandrayaan-1 stopped sending signals.
The Indian Space Agency theorized that sensor failure and poor thermal shields caused Chandrayaan-1 to crash on moon's surface. Although originally intended to operate for 2 years, the spacecraft lasted in orbit for only 312 days - half of its tenure. Even so, India declared the moon mission a success since it was able to achieve 95 percent of its mission.
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