During the Chandrayaan-3 mission, India achieved history by becoming only the fourth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon. This accomplishment was accomplished by India. This accomplishment has only grown more remarkable in light of the fact that previous landers have been unable to join the Vikram lander on the surface of the moon. The Laser Retroreflector Array was an intriguing tiny bauble that was carried by Vikram (shown above). This bauble was graciously provided by NASA. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) of the United States Space Agency has successfully “pinged” the reflector from orbit, according to the latest space agency report.
During the summer of 2017, the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft successfully arrived on the Moon, roughly at the same time as the Luna-25 mission from Russia. Vikram and its Pragyan rover were successfully landed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) just a few days after the crash of the Luna-25 spacecraft. This marked the first landing in the southern polar area of the Moon, which is where NASA intends to land humans with the Artemis III spacecraft in the near future.
According to the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) is the size of an Oreo cookie. It is made up of eight quartz-corner-cube prism reflectors that are circular in shape and have a diameter of only 1.27 centimeters. The angle of incidence is approximately twenty degrees, and each reflector is oriented in a separate direction, covering a reflective area of approximately twenty degrees. This makes it possible for the LRA to reflect any light that is directed toward it.
Because it was unable to wake up after the extended lunar night that occurred in the summer of 2017, the Vikram lander is currently offline. Vikram’s final resting location was reportedly traversed by the LRO on December 12th, 2023, as reported by NASA. The orbiter was able to successfully identify the return laser pulses by pointing its laser altimeter toward the reflector while it was at a height of 100 kilometers (62 miles). It is clear that the LRA is effective.
This type of reflector, which is somewhat larger, has been utilized by satellites for many years. When laser pulses from the earth hit these reflectors, it is possible to determine the precise location of a satellite. However, it is a novel approach to use laser pulses from a satellite to measure the exact location of a satellite. Chandrayaan-3 provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity to test this technology, which NASA believes will be an essential component of future lunar operations when it is successfully deployed. Because they do not require any maintenance and do not require any power to function, the reflectors are a great method for locating surface assets even decades after they have returned to earth.
When it comes to laser reflectors, NASA is not yet prepared to cover the Moon in them. Due to the stagnation in lunar exploration that has lasted for decades, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is the only laser instrument that is orbiting the moon, and it was not even built for this kind of application. The primary function of the LRO’s altimeter, which is referred to as LOLA, is to map the surface of the Moon. In the future, spacecraft will need to be equipped with lasers that are more precise and have the ability to zero in on the LRA housing, which is quite small. In the near future, additional reflectors like these will be used for prospective government and private missions, such as the recently arrived Japanese SLIM lander for example. In order to continue testing the reflectors, the team at NASA intends to continue utilizing LRO until newly developed instruments become available.