The principal investigator of the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft says the Lunar Retroreflector Array (LRA) may have survived the April 11 crash landing of Israel’s Beresheet on the moon.
David Smith, also an emeritus researcher at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told Inside Outer Space, that although the orientation of the array is now unknown – “It could be upside down” – it has a 120-degree angle of reception, “and we only need 1 of the 0.5-inch cubes for detection.”
The LOLA team will soon begin planning LRA-hunting observations, he said. Laser beams generated by LOLA hit the moon’s surface and then bounce back to the instrument, and if some light bounces off the LRA reflector, the team will know.
In addition, LRO is attempting to image the Beresheet crash site with a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera system (LROC).
The LRA was a NASA piggyback experiment that was attached to the Israeli spacecraft, according to Space.com. It is a technology demonstration composed of eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame, intended to serve as markers for other spacecraft which can use them as orientation aids for precision landings.
The entire instrument is smaller than a computer mouse, and it’s lightweight. According to the Space.com website, it’s also tough, radiation-hardened and designed to be long-lived, so it might not have been destroyed in the Beresheet crash-landing on the moon.