Chandrayaan-2 lander located, but officials say re-linking less likely

ISRO, Vikram lander, K Sivan
The successful landing would have made India the fourth country after erstwhile USSR, the US and China to achieve a soft-landing on the moon (ISRO File)

Efforts are on to restore communication with Chandrayaan-2’s lander Vikram, but Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) officials say that time is running out and the possibility of re-establishing link looks “less and less probable”.

According to a senior official associated with the mission, with the passage of time it gets more difficult to establish link with the lander, however, with the “right orientation”, it can still generate power and recharge batteries with solar panels. “But it looks less and less probable,” he added.

The “hard-landing” of Vikram on the lunar surface has made the task of re-establish contact more difficult as it may not have the “right orientation” and may not have landed on its four legs, another top Isro official said. “Impact shock mat have caused damage to the lander,” the official added.

ALSO WATCH | Chandrayaan 2, India’s ambitious mission to moon

Earlier on Sunday (September 8), Isro chairman K Sivan said that the lunar orbiter of Chandrayaan-2 has located the Vikram lander and that its landing must have been hard. The control room at Isro Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bengaluru had on September 7 lost communication with the lander just seconds ahead of its attempted soft-landing on the moon’s south pole.

While the orbiter has clicked thermal images of the lander, the control room, however, hasn’t been able to establish contact with the lander yet. “We do not know if the Vikram module was damaged during the hard-landing on the Lunar surface,” ANI quoted Sivan as saying.

“Yes, we have located the lander on the lunar surface. It must have been a hard-landing,” Sivan told news agency PTI. He said the lander rover Pragyan is housed inside Vikram was located by on-board cameras of the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter. Sivan said the space agency is yet to know if the lander was damaged during the hard-landing of the lander. He said efforts to establish contact with the lander were on.

The development comes just a day after the most-anticipated and talked-about soft landing of Chandrayaan-2 on the moon didn’t go as planned, visibly demoralising scientists of Isro who had worked for years on the project.

The ambitious mission to moon suffered a setback during the wee hours on Saturday (September 7), with Vikram module losing communication with ground stations, just 2.1 km from the lunar surface during its final descent. Considered the most complex stage of the country’s second expedition to the moon, the lander was on a powered decent for a soft-landing when it lost the communication with the control room.

Also read | Chandrayan-2 mission so near yet so far

In the initial minutes of the touch down, the Vikram module, which was supposed to carry out various tests on the lunar soil, had begun with a smooth descent when it was at a height of 2.1km. But it lost touch with the control room, soon after it finished the Rough Breaking’ phase and entered the Fine Breaking Phase. The soft landing was split into three descent stages to enable the lander to deaccelerate to make the landing. Sources say the problem may have begun between the Absolute Navigation Phase and the Fine Breaking Phase. It was the ‘15 minutes of terror’ that Isro chief K Sivan had anticipated before.

“Vikram Lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, communication from the lander to ground stations was lost,” Sivan had said. “The data is being analysed”, he had said while briefing the press at ISTRAC in Bengaluru.

The successful landing would have made India the fourth country after erstwhile USSR, the US and China to achieve a soft-landing on the moon, also the first to launch a mission to the unexplored south pole of the Moon.

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is healthy and safe in the lunar orbit, an ISRO official said after the lander lost contact with ground stations minutes before the touchdown on Moon’s surface. “The orbiter is healthy, intact, functioning normally and safely in the Lunar orbit,” the official said. The mission life of the 2,379-kg orbiter is one year. The orbiter payloads would conduct remote-sensing observations from a 100-km orbit.

Also read: Vikram lander’s link loss leads to gloom at Isro; PM reposes faith in scientists 

Chandrayaan-2, a follow-on mission to the Chandrayaan-1 mission undertaken more than a decade ago, comprises an orbiter, lander (Vikram) and rover (Pragyan). The orbiter carries eight scientific payloads for mapping the lunar surface and study the exosphere (outer atmosphere) of the Moon. ISRO on September 2 successfully carried out the separation of lander Vikram (with rover Pragyan housed inside) from the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter.

Vikram, named after Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, the father of the Indian Space Programme, was designed to execute a soft-landing on the lunar surface, and to function for one lunar day, which is equivalent to about 14 earth days. The rover was to roll down from the lander explore the surrounding lunar terrain, a few hours after the planned soft-landing. The Chandrayaan-2 is a ₹978-crore unmanned moon mission (satellite cost ₹603 crore, GSLV MK III cost ₹375 crore).

India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, GSLV MkIII-M1 successfully launched the 3,840-kg Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft into the Earth’s orbit on July 22. The spacecraft began its journey towards the moon leaving the earth’s orbit in the dark hours on August 14, after a crucial manoeuver called Trans Lunar Insertion that was carried out by ISRO to place the spacecraft on “Lunar Transfer Trajectory.”

The spacecraft successfully entered the lunar orbit on August 20 by performing Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) manoeuver. On September 2, Vikram successfully separated from the orbiter, following which two de-orbiting manoeuvres were performed to bring the lander closer to the Moon.

Nation’s support, PM Modi’s speech boosted our morale: Isro chief

Sivan broke down when the attempt to soft-land Vikram on the Moon failed. Scientists lost contact with Vikram minutes before the landing, and speculations rose that Vikram had crashed on the surface of the moon instead of landing softly as per the plan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address and outpouring of support and kind words for Isro after the unsuccessful bid by Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram module to touch-down on the lunar surface have boosted the morale of its scientists, Sivan said. “We are extremely happy (with PM’s address as well as nation rallying behind Isro). It has boosted the morale of our people,” Sivan told PTI.

(With inputs from agencies)