CHENNAI: What can NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) reveal about India’s Chandrayaan-2 ‘Vikram’ lander, when it flies past the lunar south pole on Tuesday? The answer may be ‘nothing’.
ISRO sources told TNIE that the probability of Vikram lander surviving the crash, is very low and the sunlight near the landing site is fast fading.
“Now, it would be like 5 pm there. Chances of NASA’s LRO capturing anything substantial are slim,” said a source.
The 14 Earth days-window or one lunar day, which is the mission life of the lander, ends on September 20-21 by when total darkness sets in. Noah Petro, LRO’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, was quoted as having said, pass over the Vikram landing site by LRO will be tough. The sun will be low on the horizon, creating long shadows on the surface.
Scientists say the camera on-board Chandrayaan-2 orbiter has better resolution of 32 cm, compared to 50 cm of NASA’s LRO. However, LRO has more than 200 terabytes of data and has extensively mapped the moon’s surface during its mission life, so far.
“Though we have a better camera than LRO, we won’t be able to generate data to analyse the soft-landing mishap. We have only images of the place we were supposed to land,” a senior ISRO scientist said. “The Lander might have broken into pieces in which case you can’t see with our camera. The only way is to look for change in lunar dust pattern. On impact, lunar dust would have been disturbed. LRO has wider coverage and older data. With thrusters switched on, the lander must have gone up and down on lunar surface and veered off, maybe by 50 km. So, LRO imaging is requested.”
ISRO stated, on September 10, “Vikram lander has been located by the orbiter of Chandrayaan 2, but no communication with it yet. All possible efforts are being made to establish communication with the lander.”
However, it has remained tight-lipped thereafter on whether the lander is intact on the lunar surface and has not released any of the images purportedly showing the Vikram lander on the moon. Though ISRO failed to soft-land, it has drawn a lot of appreciation globally, for nearly pulling-off the highly complex mission, which aimed at studying not just one area of the Moon but all the areas combining the exosphere, the surface and the sub-surface of the moon in a single mission.
“The Orbiter has already been placed in its intended orbit around the Moon. It will enrich our understanding of the moon’s evolution, mapping of the minerals and water molecules in the Polar Regions, using its eight scientific instruments. 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. The precise launch and mission management has ensured a long life of almost 7 years instead of the planned one year,” ISRO said.