Indian space agency has FOUND its Chandrayaan-2 ‘Vikram’ lander on the surface of the moon after losing contact with it just moments before its ‘hard landing’ on Friday night

  • Chandrayaan-2 entered lunar orbit two weeks ago and completed five orbits 
  • It lost all contact with mission control on Friday, sparking fears it had crashed  
  • A day after loss of contact, cameras have located the lander on the lunar surface 
  • Efforts are now underway to establish contact and find out what happened to it 

India’s pioneering Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft has been located on the surface of the moon, a day after all contact with it was lost. 

The head of India’s space agency said that efforts were now under way to establish communication with the lunar lander, admitting it must have had a ‘hard landing’. 

The $140 million mission’s lander, known as Vikram, failed in its attempt to reach the surface of the moon safely on Friday, 2.1km (1.3 miles) from the ground.

After what at first seemed a promising start to its descent, data for the Chandrayaan-2 mission’s lander, Vikram, began to show ‘wiggles’ during its braking phase that signalled it was not headed for a smooth landing.

And moments later, communication with the craft was lost as it drifted approximately 1km (0.6 miles) off course from the landing site, with fears it may have crashed. 

Indian Space Research Organisation chairman K Sivan has now said that cameras from the moon mission’s orbiter had located the lander.

The Vikram Lander pictured moments before contact with mission control in India was lost

Launch: ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of southern Andhra Pradesh state, on July 22

He added: ‘It must have been a hard landing.’

The space agency said it lost touch with the Vikram lunar lander on Friday as it made its final approach to the moon’s south pole to deploy a rover to search for signs of water.

A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there.

Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and China have landed a spacecraft on the moon. 

The space agency said on Saturday that the lander’s descent was normal until 2km (1.2 miles) from the lunar surface.

The $140 million mission, known as Chandrayaan-2, was intended to study permanently shadowed moon craters that contain water deposits, which was confirmed by the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008. 

The latest mission lifted off on July 22 from the Satish Dhawan space centre in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

After its launch, Chandrayaan-2 spent several weeks making its way towards the moon, ultimately entering lunar orbit on August 20.

The Vikram lander separated from the mission’s orbiter on September 2 and began a series of braking manoeuvres to lower its orbit and ready itself for landing.  

In a briefing following many nerve-wracking minutes of silences at mission control, ISRO confirmed contact with Vikram when it was just 2.51 kilometers from the surface. Before that, all seemed to be going according to plan

The Chandrayaan-2 mission took this photo of the moon’s surface last week, showing the Apollo crater and the salt plain Mare Orientale. The picture was taken from an altitude of 1,646 miles (2,650 km) from the lunar surface

Cees Bassa an astronomer from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, gives his verdict

There’s now much uncertainty as to what actually happened as Vikram got closer to the surface. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was filmed consoling visibly distraught ISRO staff after they lost contact with the lander.

in a subsequent formal address to the scientists and the nation hinted that the lander might have travelled at a higher-than-expected speed and crash landed on the moon. 

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) says it plans to analyse the data to find out what went wrong.   

Prime Minister Modi, who was present at the ISRO centre, told scientists : ‘There are ups and downs in life … What you have accomplished is no small achievement.’  

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embraces and consoles visibly heart-broken ISRO Chairman

He added: ‘If historians some day write about today’s incident, they will certainly say that inspired by our romantic description of the moon throughout life, Chandrayaan, in the last leg of the journey, rushed to embrace the moon.’

Modi said that though India ‘came very close’ it needs to ‘cover more ground’ in the times to come. ‘I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey.’

In an emotional moment broadcast on TV channels, Modi embraced and consoled a visibly heart-broken Isro chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan. 

‘We are full of confidence that when it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come,’ Modi said.

Sivan had earlier described the final moments of the landing mission as ’15 minutes of terror,’ due to the complexities involved with lunar gravity, terrain and dust.

An official statement from ISRO earlier in the week said all the systems controlling the Vikram lander and its rover, Pragyan, were ‘healthy’

All isn’t lost, though, even if Vikram didn’t make it. ISRO also sent an orbiter to space with the mission, which will continue to make observations around the moon.  

The Chandrayaan-2 mission’s lander, Vikram, began its powered descent around 4:10 p.m. ET, on schedule for its planned landing between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET (01:30 – 02:30am local time).

If successful, it would have made the nation just the fourth to ever land on the moon after the Soviet Union did it first in 1966, followed by the US and China.

Israel attempted the feat just months ago, but the maneuver similarly ended in failure. 

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) hoped to release a rover after the landing, which would then spend a fortnight – a single day in moon time – exploring.

With communication now dead between Vikram and the ground station, however, it may be over for the lander.

In a briefing following many nerve-wracking minutes of silences at mission control, ISRO confirmed contact with Vikram when it was just 2.1 kilometers from the surface.    

India’s Prime Minister Modi comforted students who were involved with the ground-breaking mission after confirmation that signal had been lost

The lander was named Vikram after the father of India’s space program, Vikram Sarabhai.

A live broadcast from ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, showed scientists grow tense and the floor fall silent as the control station struggled to get a signal from the lander.

Only the United States, Russia and China have landed on the moon. Beijing’s Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side earlier this year. Israel made an unsuccessful attempt to land its Beresheet spacecraft on the moon in April. 

Student walk past a screen during a live streaming of Chandrayaan-2 landing at an educational institute in Mumbai, India, September 7, 2019

A student reacts as she watches a live stream of Chandrayaan-2

The south pole is believed to contain water as craters in the region are largely unaffected by the high temperatures of the sun. ISRO had hoped to confirm the presence of water in the form of ice, first detected on its mission in 2008.

The landing attempt was streamed live on the ISRO website and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to viewers around the world. 

The event came four days after the lander – named after Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, the father of the Indian Space Programme – was released on Monday, September 2.

Devotees worship an idol of the Hindu god Ganesh, the deity of prosperity, as a model of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III-M1, which carried Chandrayaan-2, is seen next to the it, inside a ‘pandal’ or makeshift stage, on the fifth day of Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Ahmedabad, India, September 6, 2019

A cut-out of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen next to an idol of the Hindu god Ganesh, the deity of prosperity

It subsequently completed two de-orbiting manoeuvres, bringing it to begin its slow descent out of orbit and onto the moon.

Chairman of ISRO, Kailasavadivoo Sivan, said he expected the moment of landing would be ‘terrifying’ because India has never done it before. 

WHAT IS CHANDRAYAAN-2? 

Chandrayaan-2 is the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) second lunar probe. It is comprised of three modules, an Orbiter, a Lander called Vikram, and a Rover called Pragyan.

The Orbiter has a terrain mapping camera to help prepare 3D maps of the moon’s surface, an X-ray spectrometer looking for major elements including titanium and sodium, and another high resolution camera to help the other modules land safely.

Vikram has an instrument to detect seismic activity on the moon, and a thermal probe that will examine the thermal conductivity of the lunar surface.

Pragyan has an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer that examines the elemental composition of the surface and a laser induced breakdown spectroscope which looks at the abundance of various elements nearby.

The entire mission has cost around 10 billion rupees (£120million).

On Twitter, astronomers watching around the world chimed in to praise the attempt and weigh in on what might have happened.

Cees Bassa, an astronomer at the Netherlands’ Institute for Radio Astronomy, ASTRON noted that based on the data available so far, ‘it looks like the Vikram lander has crashed.’

‘After the rough braking phase the Doppler curve from @radiotelescoop shows some wiggles, and then, at 20:20:01UTC the signals disappeared…’ he added.

Vikram was supposed to land on a high plain between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, which are around 70° south.

From there, the six-wheeled robotic vehicle Pragyan would spend two weeks exploring an uncharted region and carrying out topographical studies, mineralogical analyses and other experiments in a bid to help the world gain a better understanding of the moon’s origins.

ISRO said it chose to explore the south pole as it is possible there is water in the permanently shadowed areas, which could pave the way for future lunar habitation. 

It also hoped to examine the inside of craters – which are cold traps – to get a greater understanding of the evolution of the moon.

These areas have stayed extremely cold for huge amounts of time and scientists believe it is likely they contain a fossil record of the early solar system. 

India’s Moon mission: Chandrayaan-2 will be a ground-breaking mission to the south pole of the moon and should land on a high plain between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, which are around 70° south

Chandrayan-2 (pictured) successfully released its rover, Vikram, from the orbiter and sent it towards the moon earlier this week

The $145m (£116m) mission was launched on July 22 and Indian officials hope it will be the first to ever land on the Moon’s south pole.

It is ISRO’s second lunar probe, and the first one destined to actually land on the moon. 

Both Vikram and Pragyan are not designed or intended to survive the extreme low temperatures of lunar night and will be destroyed when the 14-day window closes. 

Israel attempted to land on the lunar surface earlier this year but the mission ended in disaster when the Beresheet spacecraft lost control of its descent.

The craft was destroyed in a crash landing and put a dramatic end to the country’s space exploration hopes.   

Israel attempted to land on the moon earlier this year but the mission ended in disaster when the Beresheet spacecraft fell into an uncontrolled descent

Chandrayaan-2 is the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) second lunar probe. It is comprised of three modules, an Orbiter, a Lander called Vikram, and a Rover called Pragyan 

WHAT HAS INDIA’S SPACE AGENCY DONE TO REACH THE MOON?

Chandrayaan-1 was India’s first lunar orbiter, launched in 2008.  

The £49 million ($69 million) mission was launched amid national euphoria, putting India in the Asian space race alongside rival China and reinforcing its claim to be considered a global power.

A vehicle landed on the moon a month later and sent back images of the lunar surface.

In 2009 India terminated the mission a year earlier than planned, after scientists lost all contact with their unmanned orbiting spacecraft. 

Chandrayaan-1 (pictured) was India’s first lunar orbiter, launched in 2008. The £49 million ($69 million) mission was launched amid national euphoria

A crucial sensor in the main craft malfunctioned in July experts believe.

The satellite is believed to have crashed into the moon’s surface.

‘Our efforts to establish contact have failed. The mission has been terminated,’ said S Satish, from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) at the time.

‘There was no point continuing with the mission.’  

Named Chandrayaan-2, the vehicle will take between one and two months to reach orbit and once the rover reaches the surface it will explore the area around the south pole.

It is the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) second lunar probe. 

Weighing nearly 3,300kg (7,300lbs), the spacecraft will take off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, off India’s southwest coast. 

It is now set for launch in January 2019.  

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