Chandrayaan 2: Hope fades for lander Vikram as NASA images draw blank

These images were taken on September 17 when the LRO passed over the site near the moon’s south pole at an altitude of 50 km.

Published: 20th September 2019 06:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th September 2019 10:33 AM   |  A+A-

Vikram lander

Chandrayaan 2's lander Vikram videos Animation by ISRO (Youtube Screen grab / ISRO)

By Express News Service

BENGALURU:  Long shadows and areas of darkness posed by the lunar dusk has made it difficult for images taken by US’ National Aeronautics & Space Administration’s (NASA) moon orbiter to reveal much about India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram near the intended landing site. 

The NASA orbiter, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), has reportedly taken a series of images of the site where Vikram is said to have hard-landed.

These images were taken on September 17 when the LRO passed over the site near the moon’s south pole at an altitude of 50 km. However, LRO could not sight Vikram on the lunar surface.

With no clear ‘sighting’ of Vikram on the lunar surface in those images, NASA is now analysing and reviewing the images to get some lead into Vikram’s condition.

However, with September 21 being the deadline when the 14-earth-days-long lunar night sets in, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists are fast losing hope of re-establishing contact with the lander, which even NASA was trying to do using its own Deep Space Network stations.

ISRO scientists said they were losing hope mainly because Vikram, with Pragyan robotic rover inside it, was designed for a mission life of one lunar day, which corresponds to 14 earth days. Vikram and Pragyan were to operate during the lunar day, which began on September 7 and would last till September 21.

ALSO READ | Chandrayaan-2: Hard landing of Vikram to help orbiter look for water on Moon, says ISRO

The onboard systems of Vikram and its three payloads, besides the two payloads on board Pragyan, were not designed to withstand temperatures as low as -150 to -200 degrees celsius, which lunar nights present. 

Initially, a few days after ISRO lost contact with the lander in the early hours of September 7, the Indian scientists had said they would even efforts to re-establish contact with Vikram after the lunar day breaks again on October 4-5. However, they are not sure whether Vikram’s systems would survive such extreme cold conditions.

“The very reason why we had planned the lander and rover’s mission during the lunar day was because of this. We had planned for the payloads to operate for an entire lunar day, which was the mission life of Vikram and Pragyan,” explained an ISRO scientist.

Experts analysing why contact with Vikram was lost

ISRO on Thursday said a national-level committee consisting of academicians and ISRO experts are analysing the cause of communication loss with lander Vikram. The lander’s signal was lost in the last few moment before the scheduled touchdown near the lunar south pole.  

The monitor at ISRO Telemetry & Tracking Command Network in Bengaluru showed the blip representing the lander markedly deviating from its path seconds before the screen froze.

A few minutes later, it was announced that they had lost signal with the lander. Ever since, ISRO had never lost hope in re-establishing contact with the lander although the scientists said Chandrayaan-2 orbiter had clicked an image of the lander, which was found in a tilted position but “in one piece”.  

Meanwhile, ISRO has said all payloads onboard the orbiter are powered, and that initial trials had been completed successfully.

“Orbiter continues to perform scheduled science experiments to complete satisfaction,” ISRO said.

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