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Business News/ Science / ISRO's Vikram lander, Chandrayaan-3 gets pinged by retroreflector from NASA spacecraft

ISRO's Vikram lander, Chandrayaan-3 gets pinged by retroreflector from NASA spacecraft

NASA's laser instrument onboard its spacecraft successfully pinged the Vikram lander of India's Chandrayaan-3 mission, confirming the success of the technique to locate retroreflectors on the Moon's surface.

NASA's retroreflector reaches ISRO's Chandrayaan-3 Vikram Lander (REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo)Premium
NASA's retroreflector reaches ISRO's Chandrayaan-3 Vikram Lander (REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo)

NASA's spacecraft, a laser instrument onboard orbiting the Moon has successfully pinged the Vikram lander of India's Chandrayaan-3 mission, the US space agency said, on January 24.

"We've showed that we can locate our retroreflector on the surface from the Moon's orbit," said Xiaoli Sun, who led the team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, that developed the retroreflector on Vikram as part of a partnership between NASA and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), as reported by PTI.

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"The next step is to improve the technique so that it can become routine for missions that want to use these retroreflectors in the future," Sun said in a NASA statement, the report added.

NASA announced that a laser beam was emitted and bounced back and forth between the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and a device on the Vikram lander, roughly the size of an Oreo. This breakthrough paves the way for a novel method of accurately pinpointing targets on the lunar surface.

The lander was at a distance of 100 kilometers from LRO, close to Manzinus crater in the Moon's south pole region, when LRO transmitted laser pulses toward it on December 12 last year.

Upon detecting reflected light from a small NASA retroreflector on Vikram, the orbiter confirmed the success of NASA's technique. The conventional method of sending laser pulses towards an object and gauging the time taken for the light to return is frequently employed for tracking Earth-orbiting satellites from the ground.

Scientists emphasized that employing this technique in reverse, where laser pulses are transmitted from a mobile spacecraft to a stationary one for determining its exact location, holds numerous applications on the Moon.

Measuring a mere 2 inches or 5 centimeters in width, NASA's compact yet robust retroreflector, known as a Laser Retroreflector Array, incorporates eight quartz-corner-cube prisms arranged within a dome-shaped aluminum frame.

Renowned for its simplicity and durability, the device requires neither power nor maintenance, boasting a lifespan spanning decades. Its design enables the retroreflector to effectively reflect incoming light from any direction back to its source, as highlighted by NASA.

Retroreflectors, like this one, find applications in various scientific and exploratory endeavors and have been utilized on the Moon since the Apollo era.

By redirecting light back to Earth, these suitcase-sized retroreflectors have disclosed that the Moon is gradually distancing itself from our planet at a pace of 3.8 centimeters per year, according to information provided by the US space agency.

In response to this development, ISRO stated that the Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) on the Chandrayaan-3 lander has commenced functioning as a fiducial point—a precisely located marker for reference—on the Moon.

"NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) achieved a laser range measurement using the LRA by successfully detecting signals reflected by it on December 12, 2023. The ranging utilized the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) on the LRO. The observation occurred during lunar night time, with the LRO ascending to the east of Chandrayaan-3," the Indian space agency added.

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Published: 23 Jan 2024, 08:15 AM IST
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