The United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday said the Chandrayaan-2 lander had a “hard landing” on the moon’s surface on September 7. NASA also released images of the targeted landing site that were clicked by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter during a fly-by on September 17.
The Vikram lander had attempted a soft landing on September 7, but lost communication with the Indian Space Research Organisation minutes before touchdown.
“The Chandrayaan-2 lander, Vikram, attempted a landing September 7 (September 6 in the United States), on a small patch of lunar highland smooth plains between Simpelius N and Manzinus C craters,” NASA said in a statement. “Vikram had a hard landing and the precise location of the spacecraft in the lunar highlands has yet to be determined.”
“It was dusk when the landing area was imaged and thus large shadows covered much of the terrain; it is possible that the Vikram lander is hiding in a shadow,” the statement added. “The lighting will be favourable when LRO passes over the site in October and once again attempts to locate and image the lander.”
The NASA orbiter is expected to 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 began on September 21, causing temperatures to plummet to -180 degrees Celsius.
The lander was set to have a mission life of one lunar day, or 14 earth days, ending on the morning of September 21. But lunar night set in on the south pole of the moon, darkening any hope of re-establishing contact with Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander. The region of the moon will remain dark for 14 days. The lander was not built to survive lunar night temperatures of -180 degrees Celsius. The lander will also run out of power if its solar panels were not deployed during the hard landing.
Following the setback on September 7, 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.
On September 17, ISRO had tweeted a thank you message, and two days later said that Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter “continues to perform scheduled science experiments to complete satisfaction”. “The National committee of academicians and ISRO experts is analysing the cause of communication loss with Vikram lander,” ISRO said.