New Delhi: India was hoping for a new dawn as a space-faring nation on Saturday, but is instead waking up to news that the fate of the Chandrayaan 2 moon mission is unknown hours after its lander and rover were supposed to have touched down on the lunar surface.
The ISRO has so far only said that ground control lost contact with the lander, named Vikram after India’s space pioneer Vikram Sarabhai, and that it is analyzing data. All eyes will now be in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation from the ISRO command centre at 8am.
Ahead of the PM’s speech, here’s what we know so far since the lander started making its final descent towards the moon:
- ISRO's plan to soft land Chandrayaan-2's Vikram module on the Lunar surface did not go as per script in the early hours of Saturday, with the lander losing communication with ground stations during its final descent.
- The "terrifying 15 minute" complex landing process, which commenced with a lot of expectation, was going on well till the successful rough braking phase which was marked by rounds of applause. The phase was meant to slow down the velocity of the spacecraft.
- Applause soon gave way to worry as top ISRO scientists, including its chief K Sivan, looked glum soon after the subsequent fine braking phase commenced. It was the first indication that all was not well.
- Scientists led by Sivan went into a huddle and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefed on the development. A sombre mood enveloped the Mission Operations Complex at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) which quickly led to dejection.
- An hour after the process began, Sivan made the announcement that communication was lost with the lander, while Modi boosted the morale of the scientists asking them not to lose hope.
- Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, communication from the lander to ground stations was lost, ISRO chairman K Sivan said, his voice choking.
- ISRO later tweeted that the Prime Minister will address the nation from ISRO Control Centre on Saturday at 8 am.
The 1,471-kg 'Vikram', named after Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, father of the Indian space programme, was designed to execute a soft landing on the lunar surface, and to function for one lunar day, which is equivalent to about 14 Earth days. The lander carried three scientific payloads to conduct surface and sub-surface science experiments.
'Vikram' was to perform a series of complex braking manoeuvres to soft land in the South polar region of the Moon between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, on Saturday. It successfully completed the rough braking phase but lost communication with the ground stations during the fine braking phase, according to ISRO.
The rover ‘Pragyan', housed in Vikram, was to roll down from the lander explore the surrounding lunar terrain, a few hours after the planned soft-landing.
The unmanned Chandrayaan-2 mission, a follow-on to the Chandrayaan-1 venture launched more than a decade ago, comprises an orbiter, lander (Vikram) and rover (Pragyan).
The mission life of the orbiter will be one year while that of the lander and rover was to be one lunar day which is equal to 14 Earth days.
A successful touchdown would have made India the fourth country after Russia, the US and China to achieve a soft landing on the moon, and the first to launch a mission to the unexplored south polar region.
The Chandrayaan-2 is a Rs 978 crore unmanned moon mission (satellite cost Rs 603 crore, GSLV MK III cost Rs 375 crore). India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, GSLV MkIII-M1 successfully launched the 3,840-kg Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft into the Earth's orbit on July 22.
The spacecraft began its journey towards the moon leaving the earth's orbit in the dark hours on August 14, after a crucial manoeuvre called Trans Lunar Insertion that was carried out by ISRO to place the spacecraft on "Lunar Transfer Trajectory."
The spacecraft successfully entered the lunar orbit on August 20 by performing Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) manoeuvre.
On September 2, 'Vikram' successfully separated from the orbiter, following which two de-orbiting manoeuvres were performed to bring the lander closer to the Moon. The orbiter carries eight scientific payloads for mapping the lunar surface and study the exosphere (outer atmosphere) of the Moon, according to ISRO officials.