The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration flew over the targeted landing site of Chandrayaan-2’s lander Vikram on Tuesday and clicked a series of images but failed to locate it, Hindustan Times reported on Thursday. The NASA spacecraft has been orbiting the moon for 10 years.
“The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera acquired images around the targeted landing site but the exact location of the lander was not known so the lander may not be in the camera field of view,” said Joshua A Handal, the public affairs officer of NASA’s planetary science division.
The Indian Space Research Organisation lost contact with the lander minutes before touchdown on the moon on September 7. Following the setback, NASA had praised ISRO’s attempt to land the rover at the moon’s south pole and said the Indian space agency had inspired it with its journey. Had it succeeded, India would have become the first country to land a rover at the moon’s south pole.
According to CNet, it was almost lunar dusk when the orbiter passed over the area where Vikram is supposed to be. As a result, large parts of the area were in shadow. “The LROC team will analyse these new images and compare them to previous images to see if the lander is visible (it may be in shadow or outside the imaged area),” the orbiter’s deputy project scientist John Keller said in a statement. The space agency said it would make the results of this week’s flyover available as soon as possible.
The NASA orbiter will fly over the area again on October 14, when lighting conditions are expected to be better. However, by then there will be no chance of communicating with the lander as lunar night will begin on September 21, causing temperatures to plummet to -180 degrees Celsius.
“Once the lunar night kicks in, there is absolutely no possibility of reestablishing communication,” lunar expert Jatan Mehta told Hindustan Times. “The lander-rover was to conduct all the experiments during the lunar day and is not designed to withstand the low temperatures.” Mehta is a former science officer with TeamIndus, a Bengaluru-based private company that is attempting to send a rover to the moon.
The flyover by NASA’s spacecraft will help scientists understand what went wrong. “Images taken by its own orbiter and that of NASA will help ISRO in reconstructing what happened on September 7,” Dr Nirupam Roy, an assistant professor of Physics at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, told Hindustan Times. “ISRO has the telemetry data, which has information on velocity, altitude, thrust etc till about 2.1 km from the surface of the moon. The orientation of the lander, whether it was slightly damaged or parts were broken, the location and its deviation from the planned path will tell the scientists whether the lander hit the lunar surface at a high velocity, whether it spun out or what happened in the last moments.”
ISRO in a tweet said the Orbiter was continuing to perform scheduled science experiments “with complete satisfaction”. “Meanwhile, the National committee of academicians and ISRO experts is analysing the cause of communication loss with Vikram Lander,” it added.
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