NASA’s spacecraft has successfully achieved communication with India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander on the lunar surface. Utilizing a laser beam, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) established a connection with the Vikram lander, marking a significant milestone for lunar exploration. This breakthrough allows for precise location targeting on the moon’s surface, opening up new possibilities for future missions.
On December 12, 2023, at 3 p.m. EST, the LRO directed its laser altimeter toward the Vikram lander, situated 62 miles away near the Manzinus crater in the moon’s south pole region. The laser pulses transmitted by the LRO were reflected back from a NASA retroreflector on Vikram, confirming the success of the experiment. The technique of sending laser pulses and measuring their travel time is commonly used to track Earth-orbiting satellites. NASA aims to refine and standardize this approach for missions using retroreflectors in the future.
The Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) Instrument on Chandrayaan-3’s lander, developed through collaboration between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), began serving as a location marker on the moon. NASA’s LRO accomplished a laser range measurement using the LRA, detecting signals reflected by it. ISRO highlighted that this passive optical instrument, weighing approximately 20 grams, is designed to endure for decades on the lunar surface.
The Vikram lander, which touched down on the lunar south pole region on August 23, 2023, now contributes to lunar exploration as a long-term geodetic station and a crucial location marker. This development is expected to enhance our understanding of the moon’s dynamics, internal structure, and gravitational anomalies through precise measurements of spacecraft orbital positions.