The Indian space agency lost contact with the Vikram landing module about 2.1 km above the lunar surface, in a setback to the country’s inaugural attempt to land a spacecraft on the moon’s surface.
However, the orbiter, which has several instruments on board, continues to be around 100 kilometers above the moon.
When the landing module began the 15-minute autonomous descent, it overcame a major obstacle of what is called the abrupt rupture phase to descend from a height of 30 km to about 2.1 km. Shortly after, the landing module lost contact with the ground station.
As the graphics drifted on the screens of the control center in Bangalore, Isro’s president, K Sivan, met with other scientists, including former President Kiran Kumar, to understand what could have caused the problem. Sivan had called it “15 minutes of terror” due to the uncertainty and inability of the ground station to take control of the spacecraft during the descent.
India is proud of our scientists! They’ve given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!
Chairman @isro gave updates on Chandrayaan-2. We remain hopeful and will continue working hard on our space programme.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 6, 2019
Sivan soon addressed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had arrived to witness the descent and rocking of the scout vehicle, to inform him that communication had been lost with the spacecraft.
“I have seen sadness on your face, but this is not a small achievement. The country is proud of you. This effort of yours has taught many things. Scientists have told me that if communication comes back, then we will get a lot,” Modi told the scientists. “I hope for the best.”
Modi asked Sivan to be brave, while former Sivan chief K Kasturirangan and K Vijayraghavan, the government’s chief scientific advisor, comforted Isro’s president.
“As planned, normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Communication was then lost from the landing module to the ground station. The data is being analyzed,” Sivan read in a brief statement.
Modi, who gathered around the scientists, asked them to be brave and continue working on other missions.
The Chandrayaan 2, a project of Rs 978 crore, was launched on July 22 with the aim of landing a landing module and rolling a rover on the surface of the moon. India was going to be the fourth country to attempt a soft landing on the moon and the country had chosen the South Pole region, a place that is suspected of having heavy water.
The Space Research Organization of India lost contact with the Chandrayaan-2 Vikram landing module on Saturday just before the Moon landed, but the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is safe and sound in the lunar orbit.
Not only India, but everyone applauds the Space Research Organization of India for daring to go where no one else has succeeded.
Naturally, the Chandrayaan-2 mission was very designed with this ice in mind: the orbiter, built to operate for a year, will use radar and infrared measurements to map lunar ice deposits from above. The Vikram landing module was equipped with a set of scientific instruments that would have investigated the lunar surface in more detail. The landing module carried a thermal probe to measure the temperature of the moon up to 10 centimeters underground and was also equipped with a seismometer to monitor lunar earthquakes, which could have provided important information about the deep interior of the moon. And the two spectrometers of the Pragyan rover would have revealed the composition of the lunar regolith, or earth, through the rover’s path. All this, says Ajey Lele of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in India, would have allowed scientists to “understand what kind of minerals are available on the moon’s surface.”
Although with what is probably an invalid mission and an injured pride, the lunar aspirations of India are unlimited. The nation still has plans for Chandrayaan-3, a lunar sample return mission, for the 2020s, as well as launches of Indian astronauts into Earth’s orbit. “The gap between [India] and the big four [United States, Russia, Europe and China] is narrowing,” says McDowell. These countries are no stranger to setbacks in space. And now, along with its successes, India also knows that space is not only difficult but also heartbreaking.