Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California.
Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. NASA/Public Domain

Ground control to Major Tom: NASA has just rediscovered a lunar satellite that was wandering on an unknown course around the moon, a bit lost in space.

Locating small objects in the vast distances of space is no easy task, even with the most advanced technologies, but as Gizmodo is reporting, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have devised a new radar scheme that has allowed them to pinpoint the location of a couple errant satellites.

Both NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 (the first lunar craft India ever sent to space) were launched in the late 2000s. Thanks to the moon’s pockets of irregular gravity, their paths have diverged from their original orbits. NASA is still tracking its orbiter, but the last contact anyone on Earth had with the Indian craft was in 2009.

To locate the two spacecraft, NASA beamed a high-powered microwave at the moon from the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California and caught the signal when it bounced back to Earth with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. This one-two punch was not only able to help track the two orbiters but also demonstrated how this strategy could let NASA track future lunar satellites with greater precision.