Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram spotted, but no link yet
The orbiter of the Chandrayaan-2 mission has located Vikram, its lander that lost communication with the Indian Space Research Organisation’s control centre a day earlier, but there is no link yet, the space agency’s chairman K Sivan said on Sunday.
Sivan said the lunar orbiter, going around the moon at an altitude of 100km, took a thermal image of the lander on the moon’s surface and that Isro was trying to re-establish communication with it.
His remarks came a day after Isro scientists lost contact with Vikram, two minutes before it was to reach the lunar surface, a setback to India’s ambition of becoming the first country to explore the South Pole of the moon. The space agency said it would try to re-establish communication with the lander for 14 days – the mission life of the lander. It said the mission had already achieved 90-95% of its objectives and would contribute to lunar science.
Watch | Chandrayaan 2: Achieved 90-95% objectives, says ISRO chief K Sivan
The thermal image showed the lander was located very close to the chosen landing site, a scientist said on condition of anonymity, adding that it was intact and in an inverted position.
“The orbiter might have found something, but locating something so small from a distance of 100km is not easy. It could be a boulder, a relief feature. To make an announcement, Isro has to double- and triple-check the data,” the scientist added. The orbiter is functioning normally in its intended orbit around the Moon.
Without any communication, even if the lander and the rover, Pragyan, are intact, they will not be able to transmit any scientific data back to Earth.
Sivan said it appeared to be a hard-landing. “Yes, we have located the lander on the lunar surface. It must have been a hard-landing,” he told PTI. The Isro chairman said he did not know if the lander was damaged.
In its first statement after the setback on Saturday, Isro described Chandrayaan-2 as a highly complex mission that represented a “significant technological leap”. Isro lost contact with Vikram 2.1km from the Moon’s surface.
On Sunday, minister of state for department of space Jitendra Singh tweeted: “Now, India becomes the first country to land on the Southern pole of Moon. Big Congratulations to Team #ISRO. Hope we can communicate #VikramLander soon.”
The mission has succeeded in demonstrating India’s prowess in developing complex technologies such as the lander, rekindling interest in space science among many million young Indians.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi consoled disappointed Indian scientists including a teary-eyed Isro chairman after Vikram’s signal was lost and said that when it came to India’s space programme, “the best is yet to come”. Modi said that in science there was no failure, only experiments and attempts.
A soft-landing of the lander would have put India in an elite group of four nations along with the US, erstwhile Soviet Union, and China to have successfully landed on the lunar surface. It would have made Chandrayaan-2 the first mission to land near the South Pole of the Moon; all other missions have been in a region between the equator and 30 to 40 degrees north and south of it.
During the Chandrayaan-1 mission, Isro had dropped an impactor probe closer to the South Pole at 89.76 degrees south. The place of impact was named Jawahar Point after former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Even without a link to the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover that communicates via it, the Chandrayaan-2 mission will return valuable scientific data from the orbiter on the lunar terrain, the thin atmosphere called exosphere, and the presence of water ice near the South Pole. Eight of the thirteen Indian scientific payloads were on the orbiter.
The orbiter’s camera is the highest resolution camera in any lunar mission so far and shall provide high-resolution images that will be immensely useful to the global scientific community, the space agency has said.
The trajectory taken by the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft ensured that there was leftover fuel and the mission might stay in the lunar orbit for seven-and-a-half years instead of the planned one year.
“Because there is extra fuel available in the orbiter, at present, we estimate the orbiter life to be seven-and-a-half-years. The seven-and-a-half years would mean the high-resolution camera whose swath was small, will be able to completely cover the entire globe of the Moon due to the long duration,” Sivan told Doordarshan News.