TITUSVILLE, FL –Indian scientists have found the location of their ambitious Vikram lunar lander on the Moon’s surface this weekend via imaging from their Chandrayaan-2 orbiting mothership – after it was feared lost when contact was lost on Friday, Sept. 6 in the final moments of descent for India’s first attempt to soft land a robotic probe on the Moon’s rugged surface in a region near the lunar south pole.
The science team from ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization, is now attempting to make contact with the 1470 kg Vikram spacecraft –according to Indian press reports – before time runs out at the end of lunar day period in 14 days. The spacecraft was not designed to withstand the utterly harsh frigid cold of the following 14 day lunar night.
But no signals have been received yet and no contact has been established with Vikram as of this writing.
“We have found the location of Lander Vikram on lunar surface and Orbiter has clicked a thermal image of Lander,” ISRO Chairman K. Sivan told the ANI news service.
“We are trying to establish contact with the Vikram lander.”
And with each passing day the odds of making contact diminish significantly.
The probe may not be fully intact if it suffered a hard landing – as the team think may have happened – with damaged systems and may not be able to power up from power generated by the solar panels and stored in batteries if they are not oriented properly or malfunctioning.
The Chandrayaaan-2 orbiter snapped a thermal image of the lander – which ISRO has not yet released.
A visible light camera is also on board which will greatly assist the team in assessing the health of the lander.
“The Orbiter camera is the highest resolution camera (0.3m) in any lunar mission so far and shall provide high resolution images which will be immensely useful to the global scientific community,” says ISRO in an update Saturday, Sept. 7.
Vikram is part of India’s Chandrayaaan-2 lunar orbiter mission upon which it flew piggyback to the moon and was dispatched to the lunar surface after separation from the orbiter – which continues to function well.
A mini rover named Pragyan with a mass of 27 kg (59-pounds) was also loaded on board the lander and would have descended to the surface a few hours after touchdown – had all gone well.
The targeted landing site near the lunar south pole is an area close to potential deposits of water ice and therefore of high interest to scientists around the globe.
The robotic landing had been scheduled for approximately 4:23 p.m. EDT at a landing site located at 70.9 degrees south latitude on the near side of the moon – much farther south and closer to the lunar south pole than ever attempted before.
Contact with the 4 legged spacecraft was lost at an altitude of only 2.1 kilometers after the four ‘rough braking phase’ thrusters had successfully fired at 4:07 p.m. ET to slow the descent from an initial velocity of 3600 mph following separation from the mothership Chandrayaaan-2 orbiter in lunar orbit shortly before 4 p.m. EDT to start a 15 minute powered descent that should have ended at nearly 0 mph for a successful touchdown.
Watch my live interview on BBC TV World News in its entirety – which aired at 9:06 p.m. EDT Sept. 6 with later rebroadcasts, just5 hours after the ambitious landing attempt by the ISRO(Indian Space Research Organisation) ended with no signal from the 1470 kg Vikram spacecraft as part of the Chandrayaaan-2 mission.
Video Caption: Dr. Ken Kremer, scientist/journalist with Space UpClose, live interview on BBC World TV news discusses India 1st moon landing attempt on 6 September 2019 which apparently failed in the final moments of descent to touchdown near the lunar south pole region when contact was lost.
Had the landing attempt succeeded India would have become only the fourth nation to land on Earth’s nearest neighbor – following the former Soviet Union, United States and China.
About an hour later the ISRO Chairman K. Sivan appeared and read this statement live:
“The Vikram lander descent was as planned, and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles). Subsequently, the communications from the lander to the ground station was lost. The data is being analyzed.”
Soft landing on the moon is not an easy task. In fact it’s an enormous engineering challenge and over half of all moon landing attempts have failed during the space age.
A moon landing attempt by a private Israeli company failed earlier this year in April 2019 when the Beresheet probe crash landed. Read our series of articles, enjoy our launch photos and watch my interviews with the I24 Israeli TV news channel.China did successfully land a lunar probe for the second time earlier this year – on the lunar far side for the first time.
The mission cost approximately $140 million and continues with the Chandrayaaan-2 orbiter outfitted with eight state of the art instruments including high resolution cameras, spectrometers and radar to map the moon minerology and search for water ice in greater detail.
Chandrayaaan-2 is a follow up to Chandrayaaan-1 which was launched a decade ago in 2008 and detected the first evidence of water ice inside the moon permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles.
ISRO says the Chandrayaaan-2 lunar orbital mission could last as long as 7 years – far beyond the original design goal of 1 year – at an altitude of around 62 miles (100 kilometers).
Chandrayaan-2 was launched on July 22, 2019 from India’s spaceport and achieved lunar orbit on Aug. 20.
NASA aims to send the 1st woman and next man to land on the moon’s south pole on the Artemis 3 mission in 2024 – specifically to investigate the water ice in these permanently shadowed craters.
——— Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the
KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA has announced the selection of 14 American companies for technology partnerships in the agency’s ‘Tipping Point’ program to help enable the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration approach and return to our nearest neighbor and land astronauts on the Moon by 2024 under the Project Artemis program. The selections address technology areas such as cryogenic propellant production and management, sustainable