India Confirms Lost Lunar Lander Found On Moon’s Surface, But Not Responding

Artist depiction of the Vikram lander. Shutterstock/RaymondCassel

So far only three countries have successfully landed on the Moon: Russia, the United States, and China. Israel's Beresheet lander attempted to do so back in April, but was ultimately unsuccessful and ended up leaving thousands of tiny tardigrades on the Moon's surface. This weekend it was India's turn to attempt a lunar landing to explore the South Pole, and while the situation is still developing, it doesn’t look too good.

India has confirmed the Vikram lander has been spotted by its lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-2. The lander appeared to have touched down intact on the surface of our natural satellite but it was a hard landing. According to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), it seems that Vikram is tilted, a possible consequence of whatever happened in the last moments of the final descent. It was designed to safely land on slopes of up to 12 degrees, but it is unclear at this moment if that limit has been breached.

Dr K. Sivan, the director of ISRO, confirmed in an announcement that Vikram stopped communicating when it was about 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) from the surface of the Moon on Friday, September 6. It ended up just 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the planned landing site.   

"Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 kilometers," Sivan said. "Subsequently the communications from the lander to the ground station was lost. The data is being analyzed."

Sivan told the Times of India on Saturday, September 8, the mission would continue to try contacting the lander for 14 days.

"It had a hard-landing very close to the planned (touch-down) site as per the images sent by the on-board camera of the orbiter. The lander is there as a single piece, not broken into pieces. It's in a tilted position," an ISRO spokesperson stated, reports India Today. "We are making all-out efforts to see whether communication can be re-established with the lander."

The team appears to be optimistic about chances of re-establishing contact with the lander, but the hope rests on the assumption that nothing got broken in the landing. It's expected to have plenty of power either from its solar panels and batteries. A crucial issue is if the antenna is no longer pointing at either the ground station or the orbiter.

The lander's name, Vikram, means Valour. It's is named after Vikram Sarabhai, who is widely regarded as the founder of the Indian Space program. It was expected to work for an entire lunar day (equivalent to 14 days) and to release its rover, Pragyan, which means wisdom. The lander has a suite of instruments to study seismic activity, temperature, and the plasma that forms on the surface of the Moon.

The lander and rover duo are just one part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, the first to aim to explore the South Pole region of the Moon. The spacecraft was launched last July 22. It will continue its mission of mapping the lunar surface as well as exploring its chemical composition of the presence of water.

[H/T: India Today, Space.com]

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