Last Friday, NASA released high-resolution images captured by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) during its latest flyby of the lunar region where India’s ambitious Chandrayaan 2 mission attempted a soft landing near the Moon’s uncharted south pole. The new pictures indicate that the Indian moon probe Vikram had a hard landing.
India’s lander lost contact just moments before it about to touch down on the lunar surface earlier this month.
The new images show the targeted landing site of the Vikram rover but as they were taken at dusk, the LROC could not locate the lander whose precise location “has yet to be determined”. LRO will next pass over the landing site on October 14 when lighting conditions are expected to be more favorable.
India’s Chandrayaan-2 was scheduled to make a soft landing at the lunar South Pole on 7 September, over a month after it first took off, making it the fourth nation to do so on the Moon.
Indian space officials said that the lander, Vikram approached the Moon as normal until an error occurred about 2.1km (1.3 miles) from the surface.
On Friday, NASA tweeted the images of the targeted landing site of the Indian module.
Our @LRO_NASA mission imaged the targeted landing site of India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander, Vikram. The images were taken at dusk, and the team was not able to locate the lander. More images will be taken in October during a flyby in favorable lighting. More: https://t.co/1bMVGRKslp pic.twitter.com/kqTp3GkwuM
— NASA (@NASA) September 26, 2019
NASA said the landing site was a small patch of lunar highland smooth plains between Simpelius N and Manzinus C craters, located about 600 km from the south pole in a “relatively ancient terrain”.
The space agency said in a statement, “[The agency’s] Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) passed over the landing site on 17 September and acquired a set of high resolution images of the area; so far the team has not been able to locate or image the lander. 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 lighting will be favorable when LRO passes over the site in October and once again attempts to locate and image the lander.”
The lunar landscape was captured from a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Quickmap fly-around of the targeted landing site image width is about 150 kilometers across the center.
India’s second mission to the moon after the successful Chandrayaan-1 is focused on the lunar surface, searching for water and minerals and measuring moonquakes, among other things.
According to science writer Pallava Bagla, a successful soft landing on another planetary body would have been a huge technological achievement for ISRO, India’s space agency, and future ambitions.
This mission was special as for the first time in India’s space history, the interplanetary expedition was directed by two women – project director Muthaya Vanitha and mission director Ritu Karidhal. It captured a lot of interest as the satellite’s lift-off and subsequent moon landing attempt was broadcast live on several media platforms. The mission also hit global headlines because it’s so economical, about half the budget for Avengers: Endgame. Indian Space Agency’s 2014 Mars mission cost $74m, a tenth of the budget for the American Maven orbiter.