Bengaluru / Chandrayaan-2: Hope fading for Vikram lander as night descends on Moon

India Today : Sep 16, 2019, 02:02 PM

It has been nearly 10 days since the Indian Space Research Organisation lost contact with Chandrayaan-2's Vikram lander during its descent on to the surface of the Moon. And, hope for re-establishing contact with the Vikram lander is fading fast.

When Vikram attempted its Moon landing in the early hours of September 7, it was the beginning of the lunar day. One lunar day, which was the span of Vikram and its rover Pragyaan's mission live, is equal to around 14 Earth days.

What this means is that by September 20-21, night will have descended on the part of the Moon where Vikram is currently located. And with no sunlight to power Vikram, the Chandrayaan-2 lander will likely go silent... forever.

Vikram attempted landing on the Moon early September 7.

  • Initially, everything went according to plan. Vikram began its descent on to the Moon shortly before 1:40 am on September 7. The Chandrayaan-2 drastically reduced its speed as it began lowering its attitude.
  • Around 10 minutes after Vikram began its descent, the Isro command centre in Bengaluru that was tracking the lander's progress went silent. Worry began to creep up on the faces of the scientists gathered there as it increasingly became clear that something had gone wrong with Vikram's descent.
  • At 2:18 am, more than half-an-hour after Vikram began its descent, a composed Isro chief K Sivan took to a microphone at the command centre and confirmed the worse: Contact with Vikram had been lost.

Since then, the Indian Space Research Organisation has been making all-out efforts to re-establish communication with the Vikram lander. However, the space agency has not made much progress apart from being able to locate the lander on the Moon with the help of the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, which remains safe in its orbit around the Moon.

ALL EYES ON NASA

Focus, in the efforts to contact Vikram, will now shift to the US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). Nasa is currently operating a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which, like the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, is revolving around the Moon.

On Tuesday, Nasa's LRO will fly over the spot where Vikram is located on the Moon. A spokesperson for the space agency previously told media that the lunar orbiter will attempt taking pictures of Vikram's landing site and that the photographs would be shared with Isro.

Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will fly over Vikram lander's landing site on Tuesday (Illustration: Nasa)

Apart from this, Nasa has also activated its Deep Space Network -- a worldwide network of antennas that are used to communicate with spacecrafts -- to attempt contacting Vikram. Nasa's DSN has been sending signals to the Chandrayaan-2 lander. However, Vikram has not been responding to those signals.

FOUR DAYS TO GO

Isro now has around four days to get back in touch with Viram. And while the agency awaits a crucial update from Nasa's lunar orbiter, even that may not be enough.

Speaking to AajTak.in, a member of Nasa's lunar orbiter team underlined that it is essentially evening in the part of the Moon where Vikram is. And so, the image Nasa's lunar orbiter is expected to shoot of Vikram on Tuesday may not be clear enough.

Whatever image the Nasa orbiter manages to shoot of Vikram, it will be shared with Isro, the Nasa official confirmed to AajTak.in.

WHAT HAPPENS TO CHANDRAYAAN-2 MISSION?

The Chandrayaan-2 mission will more or less remain on course thanks to the orbiter, which is currently revolving around the Moon. The orbiter is where most of the Chandrayaan-2 experiments are located.

Isro has been able to extend the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter's mission life from one year to seven years due to fuel savings made by the spacecraft on its journey to the Moon.

Over the next few years, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will map the surface of the Moon, analyse it for minerals, study the Moon's atmosphere and, most significantly, estimate the quantity of iced water present on near the south pole of the Moon.

With Chandrayaan-2, Isro was also able to successfully test the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III rocket. The GSLV Mk-III 'Bahubali' rocket ferried Chandrayaan-2 to space in what was its first operational launch.

GSLV Mk-III is the most powerful rocket developed by Isro and will be used the space agency for the ambitious Gaganyaan mission that will send three Indians to space on an Indian spacecraft.