India remained awake deep into Friday night to witness one of the most ambitious space projects of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Chandrayaan-2, touch the moon’s surface. However, the dream was shattered as the lander, Vikram (named after towering Indian scientist, Vikram Sarabhai), failed to make a soft landing and lost communication just 2.1 kilometres away from the lunar surface. Information is awaited from ISRO as to what caused the failure.
Chandrayaan-2 is India’s second lunar mission after Chandrayaan-1, which was launched in 2008 and was operational for 312 days.
ISRO envisaged this project to expand India’s space footprints, push the boundaries of scientific knowledge, unleash innovation and explore economic possibilities. As per the Organisation, the primary objectives of Chandrayaan-2 were to demonstrate the ability to soft-land on the lunar surface and operate a robotic rover on the surface. Scientific goals include studies of lunar topography, mineralogy, elemental abundance, the lunar exosphere and signatures of hydroxyl and water ice.
Chandrayaan-2 consists of a lunar orbiter, lander (Vikram) and rover (Pragyan). While the orbiter orbits the moon, the lander Vikram was supposed to make a soft landing on the moon’s south pole on the region named Aitken Basin. Pragyan, a 6-wheeled robotic vehicle would then come out of the lander and collect important samples from the lunar surface.
Chandrayaan-2 was conceived by ISRO, 11 years ago and was finally launched on July 22 this year. The spacecraft, GSLV Mk-III that carried the Chandrayaan-2 module, is the heaviest spacecraft developed by ISRO.
The spacecraft overcame the earth’s gravity and entered the lunar orbit 29 days after its launch. On September 2, the Vikram lander separated from the orbiter. In the wee hours of September 7th as the lander was descending towards moon’s south pole, communication snapped. If successful, India would have been the 4th country after USA, Russia and China to make soft landing on the moon and the first country to land on the moon’s south pole.
However, it is to be noted that the orbiter is well placed in the moon’s orbit, 100 km above the lunar surface and will be collecting important data for a year with 8 different payloads attached to it. This means that the mission has not failed, but that only a part of it was unsuccessful.
By Ashish Bhandari