A new breakthrough in space exploration has emerged as NASA’s laser instrument successfully pinpointed the location of India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander. By transmitting laser beams between the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the lander’s small device, scientists achieved an unprecedented method of precisely locating targets on the Moon’s surface.
The distant Manzinus crater in the Moon’s south pole region was the approximate location of the Vikram lander, which was situated 100 kilometers away from LRO. On December 12 of last year, laser pulses were sent from the orbiter towards the lander, and after detecting the reflected light from a NASA retroreflector on Vikram, researchers confirmed the accuracy of their technique.
While bouncing laser pulses off objects is commonly used to track the positions of Earth-orbiting satellites, this novel approach reverses the process. By sending laser pulses from a moving spacecraft to a stationary one, scientists can accurately determine its precise location on the Moon. This opens up exciting possibilities for various applications in lunar exploration.
Xiaoli Sun, leading the team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, expressed their achievement: “We’ve shown that we can locate our retroreflector on the surface from the Moon’s orbit.” The next stage involves refining this technique to make it a routine practice for future missions employing retroreflectors.
NASA’s Laser Retroreflector Array, a tiny but potent device measuring only 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide, played a pivotal role in this breakthrough. With its simple and durable design, consisting of eight quartz-corner-cube prisms set into an aluminum frame, the retroreflector requires no power or maintenance and can endure for decades. Its configuration allows it to reflect light back to its source regardless of the direction of incoming light.
Retroreflectors have been utilized in lunar science and exploration since the Apollo era, offering multiple applications. Through reflecting light back to Earth, these retroreflectors unveiled a surprising revelation—the Moon is gradually distancing itself from our planet at a rate of 3.8 centimeters per year, as observed by NASA.
In response to this milestone, ISRO proclaimed that the Laser Retroreflector Array on Chandrayaan-3’s lander has commenced its role as a fiducial point, serving as a precisely located marker for reference on the Moon’s surface. This achievement marks a significant step forward in our understanding of lunar exploration and paves the way for future space missions.
Q: What is the breakthrough in space exploration that NASA has achieved?
A: NASA’s laser instrument successfully pinpointed the location of India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander using laser beams.
Q: How did scientists locate the lander on the Moon’s surface?
A: They transmitted laser pulses between the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the lander’s small device, achieving an unprecedented method of precise location tracking.
Q: Where was the approximate location of the lander?
A: The lander was located near the Manzinus crater in the Moon’s south pole region, about 100 kilometers away from LRO.
Q: What is unique about the method used to locate the lander?
A: The method involved sending laser pulses from a moving spacecraft to a stationary one, which allowed scientists to accurately determine the lander’s precise location on the Moon.
Q: What is the purpose of the Laser Retroreflector Array?
A: The Laser Retroreflector Array is a tiny device that played a pivotal role in the breakthrough. It reflects light back to its source and requires no power or maintenance, making it durable for long-term use.
1. Retroreflector: A device that reflects light back to its source regardless of the direction of incoming light.
2. Fiducial Point: A precisely located marker used as a reference point.