The Chandrayaan-2 mission may have received a setback with the Vikram lander losing contact with Earth during its attempt to land on the Moon last Saturday. However, there is an encouraging news for the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) -- the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter's mission life has been extended by a whopping six years.
The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter's mission was originally supposed to last a year. However, Isro has confirmed that the orbiter will now function for seven years, revolving around the Moon and collecting data on the lunar surface and atmosphere.
Isro was able to extend the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter's life by saving on fuel during its journey to the Moon. When it was launched on July 22, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter had 1697 kg of fuel. It is now left with around 500 kg of fuel, making it possible for the orbiter to last seven years.
JOURNEY TO MOON
Chandrayaan-2 was launched on July 22 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Chandrayaan-2 carried a grand dream of placing a rover on the Moon.
On July 22, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III 'Bahubali' rocket took off from Sriharikota and injected Chandrayaan-2 into an orbit around the Earth. Once placed into an orbit around Earth, Chandrayaan-2 was on its own.
Over the next few days, Chandrayaan-2 used the fuel it had onboard to steadily increase its orbit levels around the Earth. On August 14, Chandrayaan-2 entered the Lunar Transfer Trajectory, beginning a six-day journey to the Moon.
The Chandrayaan-2 landing would have made India the only country in the world to 'soft land' near the south pole of the Moon (Reuters image)
On August 20, Chandrayaan-2 entered the lunar orbit and over the next few days steadily lowered its orbit around the Moon. On September 1, Chandrayaan-2 entered its final lunar orbit; the spacecraft was around 100 km above the Moon.
For all these manoeuvres, Chandrayaan-2 used the fuel it was carrying onboard. By the time Chandrayaan-2 entered the final lunar orbit, it had 500 kg of fuel left over.
The Indian Space Research Organisation now plans to use this leftover fuel to keep the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter operation for the next seven years.
While Isro has confirmed that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will last for the next seven years, the plan could change if the space agency is forced to make changes to the spacecraft's orbit around the Moon.
If, due to unforeseen circumstances, Isro is forced to either increase or decrease the Chandrayaan-2's orbit, it will have to use the fuel left onboard, which could reduce the probe's lifespan.
The orbiter is the most important part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. It carries onboard a total of eight payloads that will perform various experiments and tests.
These include mapping the lunar surface, testing for the presence of elements such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, calcium, titanium, iron and sodium besides studying the lunar atmosphere.
The most high-profile experiment the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will carry out will be to estimate the quantity of iced water present in the south polar region of the Moon.
WHAT ABOUT VIKRAM?
It's been more than four days since the Indian Space Research Organisation lost contact with the Vikram lander. Contact with Vikram, which houses the six-wheeled Pragyaan rover, was lost when it was 2.1 km above the Moon's surface, seconds away from landing near the lunar south pole.
A successful landing would have made India only the fourth country in the world to land a rover on the Moon and the only country in the world to perform a 'soft landing' near the lunar south pole.
The lander Vikram with the rover Pragyaan
Though highly ambitious, the Moon landing was just one part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission -- the lander Vikram and rover Pragyaan combined have a lesser number of payloads (five) than the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter's eight.
Vikram and Pragyaan's mission life was also just 14 days, which also means that Isro is running out of time to establish contact with the lander.
Hope for Vikram and Pragyaan may be increasingly fading, but the Chandrayaan-2 mission is well on course thanks to the orbiter, which will be alive and spinning for the next seven years.