Billion dreams eclipsed as Chandrayaan-2 lander loses signal during final descent

ISRO fails to overcome ‘15 terrifying minutes’; Ground centre loses signal from lander Vikram at 2.1 km from Moon surface; Sivan briefs PM.
A dejected ISRO cheif K Sivan announcing the loss of connectivity with Vikram. (Photo | DD)
A dejected ISRO cheif K Sivan announcing the loss of connectivity with Vikram. (Photo | DD)

BENGALURU: India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander lost signal with the mission control when it was 2.1 km away from touchdown. The gloom at the mission centre in Bengaluru spoke volumes indicating failure. “The lander’s controls were normal till 2.1 km from lunar surface. We are analysing the data,” said ISRO chief K Sivan.

It was after a 48-day journey, through three orbital manoeuvring components (earth orbit, trans lunar orbit, and lunar orbit) that the Chandrayaan-2 mission reached the Moon to land at the designated location between two craters of Manzinus C and Simpelius N near the lunar south pole.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi watched the action live at the Mission Operations Complex (MOX) at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network (ISTRAC) in Peenya, Bengaluru, with about 70 students from various parts of the country who won this visit by winning a space quiz competition organised by ISRO. The mission took off after an initial hiccup when the earlier launch date of July 15 had to be deferred by a week to July 22 following the timely detection of a technical snag in one of the fuel tanks of the GSLV Mk III M1 launcher.

Action began in the lander’s automated mode from about 100 km above lunar surface when the lander Vikram proceeded towards the set location with its burners horizontal to the surface. As it descended to 30 km altitude, the thrusters on the lander broke the speed to 1.6 km per second. Vikram was designed to tilt 90 degrees to point the burners towards the ground. Upon completion of the tilt, the onboard cameras and the detectors surveyed the surface before the lander entered the hovering and landing phase using the central thrust to buffer its landing.

The six-wheeled rover Pragyaan would have left imprints of ISRO and Ashoka Chakra on the surface of the moon after rolling out of lander Vikram, which was scheduled to take place between 5.30 am and 6.30 am on Saturday. The progress of the Rs 978 crore Chadrayaan-2 mission is tracked from the Mission Operations Complex (MOX) at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network (ISTRAC) in Peenya, Bengaluru. The 1,471-kg lander, named after the father of Indian Space programme, Dr Vikram Sarabhai, was designed to conduct experiments on the lunar surface for 1 lunar day.

From 3.8 lakh km away from the Earth, lander Vikram had the ability to directly communicate with the Indian Deep Space Network at Bylalu near Bengaluru. Chandrayaan-2’s science payloads were to expand lunar scientific knowledge through detailed study of topography, seismography, mineral identification and distribution, surface chemical composition, thermo-physical characteristics of topsoil and composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere, leading to a new understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon.

The payloads on the orbiter, which will continue to orbit the Moon for a year or more, will conduct remote-sensing observations from a 100 km orbit while the Lander and Rover payloads were to perform in-situ measurements near the landing site. For understanding of the Lunar composition, the Chandrayaan-2 mission plans to identify elements and mapping its distribution on the lunar surface both at global and in-situ level, besides detailed 3-dimensional mapping of the lunar regolith (layers of loose, heterogeneous superficial deposits covering solid rock).

According to ISRO, measurements on the near surface plasma environment and electron density in the lunar ionosphere were to be studied. Thermo-physical property of the lunar surface and seismic activities were also to be measured. Water molecule distribution using infrared spectroscopy, synthetic aperture radiometry and polarimetry as well as mass spectroscopy techniques were also part of the studies.

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