Credit: ISRO

The attempted touchdown of India’s Vikram lunar lander near the Moon’s South Pole ended in failure on September 7th.

Credit: ISRO/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

In the meantime, how and why it failed has become the target of exploratory postings – some of which suggest the craft nose-dived into the lunar landscape at upwards of 180 miles per hour.

Loss of com

By way of its Chandrayaan-2 mission – an orbiter, lander/rover — India had hoped to become the 4th nation to make a soft landing on the Moon.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) noted on September 10th that the Vikram lander had been located by the camera-carrying orbiter of Chandrayaan-2, “but no communication with it yet. All possible efforts are being made to establish communication with lander.”

That Indian orbiter imagery has yet to be issued.

Credit: ISRO/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

Orbiter update

In a September 19th posting, ISRO explained that the Chandrayaan2 orbiter “continues to perform scheduled science experiments to complete satisfaction.”

India’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter – up and operating.
Credit: ISRO

All payloads of the orbiter are powered. Initial trials for orbiter payloads have been successfully completed. Performance of all orbiter payloads is satisfactory. The orbiter continues to perform scheduled science experiments to complete satisfaction, ISRO explains.

Lastly, a National level committee consisting of academicians and ISRO experts are analyzing the cause of communication loss with the Vikram lander.

Credit: ISRO

Poor lighting conditions

Flying over the touchdown zone on September 17, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) did take new imagery in an attempt to spot the lander. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) is a system of three cameras mounted on the LRO that capture high resolution photos of the lunar landscape. However, due to poor lighting conditions, chances of locating the lander were unfavorable.

On the lookout for India’s Moon lander, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

LRO will next fly over the landing site on October 14th – enjoying a more favorable lighting situation.

Field of view

Inside Outer Space has been provided NASA’s approved statement regarding the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) with respect to looking for India’s Vikram lander.

“LRO flew over the area of the Vikram landing site on Sept. 17 when local lunar time was near dusk; large shadows covered much of the area. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) acquired images around the targeted landing site, but the exact location of the lander was not known so the lander may not be in the camera field of view,” the NASA statement explains.

Projected Vikram lunar landing site in the highland plain between the craters Manzinus C and Simpelius N. Simpelius N crater is about 6 miles (9 kilometers) across.
Source: LROC Quickmap
Credit: Jatan Mehta/Moon Monday


Continuing, the statement says: “The LROC team will analyze these new images and compare them to previous images to see if the lander is visible (it may be in shadow or outside the imaged area). LRO will next fly over the landing site on October 14 when lighting conditions will be more favorable.   NASA will make the results of the Sept. 17 flyover available as soon as possible after a necessary period of validation, analysis, and review.”



Speculative postings

Meanwhile, check out these postings:

How the Indian lunar lander was lost

What We Know About India’s Failed Lunar Landing

Based on the handful of public statements, and images from mission control it looks like braking from orbital velocity worked correctly, but the transition to fine control for descent may have resulted in a tumbling spacecraft which impacted the surface at about 100m/sec.

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