— With space probes from three nations currently orbiting the Moon and a fourth probe set to launch in early 2009, officials of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said they see an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration and data exchange.

‘s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft entered lunar orbit Nov. 8, joining
‘s Kaguya and
‘s Chang’e-1 that have been circling the Moon since late 2007. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is expected to join them in late April, about six months later than originally planned.

Bhandari, a scientist who until recently headed ISRO’s planetary exploration division, told Space News that the overlapping periods of observation by the four probes during the 2008-2010 timeframe offer excellent opportunities for in-orbit coordination and cooperation in data analysis.

For example, the impact of a lunar craft at the end of its mission could be observed by one or more of the other spacecraft still in orbit to learn about the lunar surface characteristics and near-surface deposits, he said.

“There is no doubt that exchange of results and information obtained by each of these missions can benefit the others,” JitendraNathGoswami, principal scientist of Chandrayaan-1 mission told Space News in a recent e-mail

“We do not have direct communication or [a]collaboration plan with the
‘s Chang’e-1 mission,” Goswami wrote. “However, we do have interactions with Japanese and
teams of Kaguya and LRO missions.”

added that representative scientists from Kaguya and LRO missions have attended a couple of Chandrayaan-1 science meetings. “The LRO team has also invited Indian representative[s] to attend similar meetings (of LRO).”

expects the Chandrayaan-1 mission to benefit from results obtained from Kaguya and LRO. Their data will help Chandrayaan-1 “focus observation of more interesting regions of [the] Moon,” he said.

However, Goswami said ISRO scientists have no definitive plan to participate in analysis of data obtained from the Kaguya and LRO missions until their data are in the public domain.

, who is also director of the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, said there is a proposal for a joint India-Japan workshop on initial results obtained by the two missions sometime next year. “When it materializes I am sure the LRO team will also be joining our deliberations,” he said.

said there also are suggestions from the Chandrayaan-1 and LRO teams for specific observations that could be made jointly by the two orbiters.

He said the feasibility of the proposed joint observations would be considered once the primary mission objectives of the Chandrayaan-1 mission are completed.

One obvious possibility for in-orbit collaboration between Chandrayaan-1 and LRO, according to Bhandari, stems from the fact that both are equipped with similar radar instruments designed to look for water in the south polar regions.

said coordinated radar observations by Chandrayaan-1 and LRO would be an effective experiment for resolving the debate about the presence of water ice in the Moon’s polar regions.