ISRO says lander spotted on moon, but no contact yet

The lost lander module of the Chandrayaan-2 mission has been located on the surface of the moon with the help of its orbiter, ISRO Chairman K Sivan said on Sunday, adding that they had not been able to establish contact with it though.

Sivan was quoted by ANI news agency as saying the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter had managed to click a “thermal” image of the lander. Thermal images are produced by capturing infrared radiation coming from an object. They use temperature differences, rather than color differences, to create an image.

“We have found the location of the Vikram lander on the lunar surface and the orbiter has clicked a thermal image of the lander. We are trying to establish contact. It will be communicated soon,” ANI quoted Sivan as saying.

Vikram had lost contact with the ground control station when about 2.1 km above the moon’s surface. At that time, it was travelling at the speed of about 50 metres per second and not decelerating at the rate required for a safe landing. It was programmed to achieve a speed of about 2 metres per second just after touchdown, but most probably it hit the moon at a much faster pace, and could have been damaged in the process.

The extent of the damage would depend on the speed at which the lander touched down, and that is not clear as of now. It is possible, assuming that it had slowed down enough not to get completely destroyed, that some of the instruments on board survived the crash and are in usable condition. It is also possible that such instruments can be brought back to life from the ground station and made to work towards their intended objectives.

But so far attempts to restore contact with the lander or its individual components have not succeeded.

Vikram had four instruments on board, and two more instruments were installed on the rover Pragyan, which was supposed to come out from the lander after the landing, and roam on the moon’s surface. The rover could have come out only if Vikram had landed erect, as designed to do. It is unlikely that the Vikram would have managed to stand erect after hitting the moon at a great speed. Therefore, the chances of the rover coming out are all but ruled out.

The four instruments on the lander were installed on different sides of it. So, it is possible that the instruments not on the face-down side of Vikram could be re-started and made to operate. For example, the instrument called RAMBHA, or Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive Ionosphere and Atmosphere, was supposed to study the moon’s atmosphere. If it survived the crash, it is possible it can be made to start sending data.