India’s Vikram impact point and associated debris field. Green dots indicate spacecraft debris (confirmed or likely). Blue dots are disturbed soil, likely where small bits of the spacecraft churned up the regolith. “S” indicates debris identified by eye-sharp Shanmuga Subramanian.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

India’s Vikram lunar lander crash site has been found. Its impact point and debris field imaged after the craft augured into the Moon on September 7th India time (September 6 in the United States).

Spotting the crash site was NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and the craft’s high-powered LROC system.

The Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander was targeted for a highland smooth plain about 373 miles (600 kilometers) from the lunar south pole. Unfortunately the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lost contact with Vikram lander/rover shortly before the scheduled touchdown.

Amazing achievement

“Despite the loss, getting that close to the surface was an amazing achievement,” notes Arizona State University’s Mark Robinson, leader of the LROC system that’s onboard LRO.

Pre-launch photo shows India’s Pragyan rover mounted on the ramp projecting from out of the sides of Vikram lunar lander. Vikram and the rover were scheduled on September 6 to land on the near the Moon’s south polar region – but crashed onto the lunar surface.
Credit: ISRO

Identifying the crash site was not easy.

The LROC team released the first mosaic of the site that was acquired months ago on September 26, “and many people have downloaded the mosaic to search for signs of Vikram,” Robinson notes in a website posting.

Shanmuga Subramanian contacted the LRO project with a positive identification of debris. After receiving this tip the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images, Robinson said.

India’s lunar lander impact point is near center of image and stands out due to the dark rays and bright outer halo. Note the dark streak and debris about 100 meters to the south, south east of the impact point. Diagonal straight lines are uncorrected background artifacts.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Tough to spot

When the images for the first mosaic were acquired by LRO, the impact point was poorly illuminated and thus not easily identifiable. Two subsequent image sequences were acquired on October 14, 15 and November 11.

The LROC team scoured the surrounding area in these new mosaics and found the impact site (70.8810°S,  22.7840°E, 834 m elevation) and associated debris field, Robinson reports.

The November mosaic from LRO had the best pixel scale (0.7 meter) and lighting conditions (72° incidence angle).

For a full account of the finding, go to:

http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/posts/1131

Leave a Reply