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A delicate joint manoeuvre between US and Indian space probes orbiting the moon could turn up evidence for valuable lunar water.
Some scientists suspect water ice – which would be a precious resource for future explorers – may be trapped in permanently shadowed craters at the moon's poles.
A recent joint experiment involving the US and Indian space agencies has provided a unique opportunity to get that data. "It's a unique experiment that can only be conducted by two spacecraft in orbit at the same time," says Jason Crusan of NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.
On 20 August, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Chandrayaan-1 were manoeuvred to within a few dozen kilometres of each other, which required close communication and coordination between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation.
Once in proper formation, Chandrayaan-1 fired its radar beam at a crater near the moon's north pole, while both spacecraft listened for the echoes. On Monday, Crusan said scientists were still analysing the data to make sure the experiment worked, but added that both spacecraft were in the right positions at the right time for it to go as planned.