The Chandrayaan-2 mission serves as the second phase of India’s Chandrayaan lunar exploration program and is a follow-on to the highly successful Chandrayaan-1 mission, which featured a lunar orbiter and an impactor known as the Moon Impact Probe (MIP). Both spacecraft were launched aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) on October 22, 2008, and Chandrayaan-1’s data helped determine the presence of water ice on the moon, which NASA announced in September 2009.
The primary objective of Chandrayaan-2 is to demonstrate the ability to soft-land on the lunar surface and operate a robotic rover on the surface. Scientific goals include studies of lunar topography, mineralogy, elemental abundance, the lunar exosphere, and signatures of hydroxyl and water ice.
Chandrayaan-2 mission employs a group of three spacecraft that would orbit, land on, and rove the lunar surface — the unnamed Orbiter, the Vikram lander — named after Dr. Vikram A. Sarabhai, who is regarded as the founder of the Indian space program, and the small rover named Pragyan, a Sanskrit word meaning knowledge. The lander and rover portions of the mission were planned for 14-15 days i.e. one period of lunar daylight.
Each step has been carefully planned and executed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on a tight budget. The Chandrayaan-2 mission comes at less than half the amount spent on the recent Hollywood blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame,” which cost $356 million to make.
Following a historic July 22 launch on a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III) rocket from the Second Pad at India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Shriharikota on the east coast of India, the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft — the robotic lander and rover — made an unprecedented attempt to make a soft, controlled landing on the moon’s south polar region early in the morning, which ended in excruciating silence. Shortly before touchdown, the robotic lander Vikram fell out of contact with mission control.
The landing of the spacecraft was live telecast and webcast from the Mission Control Centre of ISRO, the Indian space agency, at Bangaluru. We all were awake and watching the landing live. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also present there. There was huge interest in this scientific event. Not just did people follow the mission, many followed along with the engineering procedures: from lander separation to the various steps of the landing.
Chandrayaan-2 covered a distance of close to 384,400 km to the moon in the 48 days since its launch, with scientists meticulously performing 15 complex planned manoeuvres to guide it to its destination.
Everything was going on as planned as we all were watching on the screens, phase by phase. Vikram slightly deviated from its planned path or might have oscillated at the fine brake phase of its descent and then the communication link got snapped. ISRO’s Chairman K. Sivan announced that the signal from lander Vikram was lost when it was within 2.1 km of the lunar surface. ISRO is trying to establish communication with Vikram lander.
Now, the data are being analysed and the world waits to hear the spacecraft’s fate. In addition to setting a global first, a successful landing would have made India just the fourth country, after the United States, Russia, and China to touch down anywhere on the lunar surface, and only the third nation to operate a robotic rover there.
National Geographic writes: Like any voyage to a world beyond Earth, Vikram’s flight was a risky endeavour, requiring the lander to slow itself down to a near standstill, autonomously scan for surface obstacles, and then take steps to avoid them during touchdown. The majority of attempts to land robots on the moon have ended in failure, either during launch or on the way to the surface.
The success ratio of lunar missions undertaken in the last six decades is 60 per cent, according to the US space agency NASA’s ‘Moon Fact Sheet’. Of the 109 lunar missions during the period, 61 were successful and 48 had failed, it stated.
Though Vikram may not have landed softly, it is part of a bigger global wave of robotic lunar explorers. The orbiter component remains safely in lunar orbit, with a year-long scientific mission ahead of it. It will still be able to make high-resolution maps of the lunar surface, as well as the occurrence of certain elements such as magnesium. The orbiter is functional and has healthy communication with ISRO’s mission centre. Its radar system will also be able to “listen” for the telltale ping of water ice mixed into the lunar soil.
Indians in India and abroad came together to celebrate one of the finest moments of Indian scientific history. Every Indian, including politicians, celebrities, sportspersons, stood in solidarity with ISRO today after Chandrayaan-2’s lander went incommunicado barely a couple of kilometres from the moon’s surface. Prime Minister Modi tweets: “India is proud of our scientists! They’ve given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!”
Space is hard. We commend @ISRO’s attempt to land their #Chandrayaan2 mission on the Moon’s South Pole. You have inspired us with your journey and look forward to future opportunities to explore our solar system together. https://t.co/pKzzo9FDLL
— NASA (@NASA) September 7, 2019
Kudos to ISRO! You have won our hearts. Jai Hind! Jai Vigyan!