NASA has found a way to detect ruined spacecraft and space debris in Earth's orbit and around Earth's moon. The scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California have created a new technological application of interplanetary radar.
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or the LRO and the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft were detected in lunar orbit with ground-based radar, NASA has reported. "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," said Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at JPL and principal investigator for the test project.
Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is really tiny, a cube about five feet (1.5 meters) on each side. It is like the size of a smart car so scientists at the NASA JPL were really surprised when it was detected. The interplanetary radar has been observing tiny asteroids several million miles from Earth. The finding of Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is the best example that the new technological application of interplanetary radar is really working. More importantly, this new technique can definitely help the future of Mars missions, Phys.org stated.
NASA's 70-meter (230-foot) antenna at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California was used to find Chandrayaan-1. It sent out a powerful beam of microwaves directed toward the moon. After that, the 100-meter (330-foot) Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia received the radar echoes that went back from the lunar orbit. Though the spacecraft was not initially found, it was after the team of scientists pointed the Goldstone and Green Bank at a location about 100 miles (160 kilometers) above the moon's north pole.
The scientists at NASA just have to use their existing large radar antennas at Goldstone, Arecibo and Green Bank to detect and track even the smallest spacecraft in the moon's orbit. The same team of scientists is hoping this new discovery will help more missions in the future.