Chennai engineer spotted Vikram lander debris months after crash landing, confirms NASA

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission of Goddard Space Flight Centre has credited Shanmuga Subramanian, a mechanical engineer in India, for the discovery in an official email.

Published: 03rd December 2019 08:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd December 2019 08:40 PM   |  A+A-

Image shows the Vikram Lander impact point and associated debris field. (Inset: Chennai engineer Shanmuga Subramanian)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: A Chennai engineer has helped American space agency NASA to find pieces of Vikram lander on moon's surface. 

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LROC) mission of Goddard Space Flight Centre has credited Shanmuga Subramanian, a mechanical engineer in India, for the discovery in an official email.

"Thank you for informing us of your discovery of debris from the Vikram lander. The LROC team confirmed that the location does exhibit changes in images taken before and after the date of the landing. Using this information the LROC team did additional searches in this area and located the site of the primary impact as well as other debris around the impact location and has announced the sighting on the NASA and ASU pages where you have been given credit for you observation," John Keller, Deputy Project Scientist, LROC, said. 

NASA in its statement said: "The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team released the first mosaic (acquired Sept. 17) of the site on Sept. 26 and many people have downloaded the mosaic to search for signs of Vikram. Shanmuga Subramanian contacted the LRO project with a positive identification of debris. After receiving this tip, the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images. When the images for the first mosaic were acquired the impact point was poorly illuminated and thus not easily identifiable. Two subsequent image sequences were acquired on Oct. 14 and 15, and Nov. 11. The LROC team scoured the surrounding area in these new mosaics and found the impact site (70.8810°S,  22.7840°E, 834 m elevation) and associated debris field. The November mosaic had the best pixel scale (0.7 meter) and lighting conditions (72° incidence angle).

The debris first located by Shanmuga is about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site and was a single bright pixel identification in that first mosaic (1.3 meter pixels, 84° incidence angle). The November mosaic shows best the impact crater, ray and extensive debris field. The three largest pieces of debris are each about 2x2 pixels and cast a one pixel shadow."

Vikram was part of India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission to the moon, which launched in July.

If the spacecraft had reached the surface in one piece on September 7, India would have been only the fourth country to successfully put a lander on the moon.  

Subramanian had contacted NASA in October, but it took time for the American space agency to be certain of its interpretation of the observation as well as making sure that all the stakeholders had an opportunity to comment before they would announce the results. 

Subramanian told Express that he was happy that his work got the due recognition. 

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