NASA Finds Long-Lost Lunar Probe Still in Orbit

Ground radar spotted Chandrayaan-1
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2017 6:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – Almost eight years after it stopped communicating with ground stations, NASA has rediscovered India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe. The long-lost spacecraft didn't crash into the lunar surface in 2009, as some had suspected, but continued circling the moon in a slightly different orbit. NASA says it detected the small cubic probe, which it describes as being around 5 feet per side, with a beam of microwaves sent from a 230-foot antenna at its Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. Scientists had to use ground-based radar because lunar glare made it impossible to spot the probe through optical telescopes, Engadget notes.

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NASA says it knew Chandrayaan-1 was in a polar orbit, so it trained the beam on the moon's north pole and waited for the spacecraft to cross it. The agency says the radar technique could help future lunar missions by averting collisions with derelict spacecraft and by aiding spacecraft suffering communication difficulties. The probe was launched in 2008 for what was supposed to be a two-year mission mapping the lunar surface. "To be declared lost and then found after eight years is a great accomplishment," Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, known as the father of India's moon mission, tells the Times of India. "Chandrayaan-1 was our first interplanetary mission and I am delighted that it has been found." (NASA has lost a legal battle over a stolen bag of moon dust.)

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