India loses communication with lunar lander just minutes before landing


India recently fell short of its goal of becoming the fourth country to land a vehicle on the moon intact. Just minutes before its Vikram lander touched down on the moon’s surface, the ground team lost contact with it.

Though India hasn’t yet given an official update about the lander’s status, it’s safe to assume that the vehicle did not survive the crash landing. The news is disheartening not only for the country but for researchers hoping to learn more about the moon’s mysterious south pole.

Chandrayann-2 Mission Failure

Though the United States, Russia, and China operate the space programs that get the most attention, India’s is highly ambitious in its own right. Its latest mission, Chandrayann-2, aims to gather data on the frigid south pole region of the moon. However, it appears that scientists will be waiting a little longer than expected to get that information.

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The Chandrayann-2 mission consists of several parts, but the most important was the Vikram spacecraft. Vikram carried with it a separate rover named Pragyan. If the landing would have gone smoothly, the two would have worked together to explore Earth’s orbital accessory in detail with a variety of instruments.

Now, experts fear the worst for the tandem.

Tragedy struck as Vikram approached the moon’s surface during its powered descent. Mission control in India lost communication with the lander as it was just 1.3 miles above the lunar surface. At that time, the vehicle was off course from its targeted landing site. As of now, it is unclear whether the lander somehow miraculously survived or crashed into the surface.

The Bright Side

Fortunately, the Chandrayann-2 mission wasn’t a total failure. The two spacecraft that likely crashed actually launched with another vehicle. That unnamed craft successfully entered lunar orbit back on August 20.

Not only did the spacecraft help the crew figure out what might have gone wrong, it will proceed to study the moon’s surface for the duration of its year in orbit. The orbiter is equipped with several cameras, x-rays, and other instruments that will feed data back to India’s space agency.

As for studying the moon’s south pole, researchers will have to wait for another mission to attempt the landing. The region is bathed in almost constant shadow, which plummets its temperature to downwards of -200 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists believe that there may be large bodies of frozen water hiding in the lunar south pole.

Interestingly, NASA’s Artemis mission, which aims to return humans to the moon (including the first woman) by 2024, is targeting the region for its landing. Perhaps that mission will be better suited to making the operation a success.