ISRO Loses Contact With Lander Vikram at 2 km from Moon

Bengaluru: In a huge disappointment, communications from Chandrayaan-2′ Vikram lander to ISRO’s ground station was lost before touchdown while the nation eagerly awaited its soft landing on the hitherto unexplored lunar south pole in the early hours of Saturday.

As the powered descent of the lander began at around 1.38 am, scientists at ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) here were glued to their terminals, anticipating the soft landing. They clapped and cheered as the moon lander completed the rough braking phase before the fine braking phase started.It was then that the scientists started becoming tense and went into a huddle. ISRO Chairman K Sivan was seen engaged in intense discussions with some scientists.

Soon after, he announced that the Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, communications from lander to ground station were lost, he said, adding the data was being analysed.Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked ISRO scientists to “be courageous” and hope for the best. Modi, who witnessed the proceedings at ISRO, told the scientific community that the country was proud of them and asked them to be courageous.

“Be courageous…Hope for the best,” Modi told the scientists.Minutes before making the announcement about losing communication with the ‘Vikram’ lander, ISRO Chairman K Sivan had briefed the prime minister.Later in a tweet, Modi said, “India is proud of our scientists! They’ve given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be! Chairman isro gave updates on Chandrayaan-2. We remain hopeful and will continue working hard on our space programme.”As per a timeline released earlier by ISRO, the lander Vikram was to land at 1:53am and the rover Pragyan was scheduled to roll down a ramp at 5:19am. In an extraordinary moment, the rover was to click a photograph of the lander at 5:45am.

Chandrayaan 2 had lifted off from India’s spaceport at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 22. The spacecraft used in the mission comprised of an orbiter, a lander called Vikram and a rover called Pragyan almost entirely designed and made in India.

The orbiter has a mission life of a year and will take images of the lunar surface.

About $140 million was spent on preparations for the probe’s mission — a much smaller price tag compared to similar operations by other countries. It was launched on India’s most powerful rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) MkIII, nicknamed by the media as Baahubali. The lift-off was successful in its second attempt, a week after it was aborted just under an hour from its launch due to a technical glitch.

Chandrayaan 1 orbited the moon in 2008 and helped confirm the presence of water. ISRO chairman K Sivan has said that landing on the lunar surface involves a lot of technical complexities  an event he described as “15 terrifying minutes.”