The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday said it had detected India’s lost Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft (pictured above) orbiting the moon and its own Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Nasa attributed the discovery to its Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s ground-based radar technique. The Indian Space Research Organisation had said it had lost communication with the lunar probe on August 29, 2009.

“Finding the lunar reconnaissance orbiter was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission’s navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located. Finding India’s Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in 2009,” said Marina Brozovic, a scientist at the California-based laboratory.

She said the size of India’s spacecraft, which may be compared to half a smart car, made its detection even more challenging.

The researchers were skeptical about the technique’s success, as it is normally used to detect asteroids that are several million miles from Earth. The lunar probe, located even further away proved a major challenge for the radars. The Moon’s mascons (regions with higher-than-average gravitational pull) were an added risk as they “can dramatically affect a spacecraft’s orbit and even cause it to have crashed into the moon”, the statement said.

The organisation said that the technique’s success could play a crucial role in future manned and unmanned missions in space.