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ISRO Finally Opens up About What Happened During the Chandrayaan-2 Moon Landing

Turns out the Vikram lander did stick the landing, but just not in the way ISRO had hoped for.

by Shamani Joshi
22 November 2019, 12:11pm

Chandrayaan-2 night view at the Second Launch Pad. Photo courtesy ISRO.

India’s moon-landing mission Chandrayaan-2 was supposed to catapult India into the space race. But instead, the nation’s moon lander hit several snags, from a small technical glitch that held up the launch to later, a loss of contact with the craft.

The satellite consisted of three components: the Rover, Lander and Orbiter, and just as its Vikram Lander was 2.1 km away from landing on the moon’s surface, all communications were lost. The India Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has since been largely silent on what went down. That is until a recent session of Parliament, in which a spokesperson finally revealed some details.

Two and a half months after the event, ISRO tells us that the moon-bound Vikram lander did actually land, but it was a “hard-landing” instead of the soft one they’d been hoping for. According to the Indian Express, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh, claimed that the “reduction in velocity” of Vikram's landing “was more than the designed value”. As a result, Vikram “hard-landed” on the moon “within 500 metres of the designated landing site”.

However, ISRO continues to stay quiet about what ultimately happened to the lander after it effectively crashed, still maintaining that it lost contact with it some 355 metres from the moon’s surface. This is despite the fact that the team revealed that the Orbiter module of Chandrayaan-2 was still functioning and taking thermal images of Vikram as it circled the moon.

Still, the minister maintained that despite losing touch with the lander, the mission remained a success on two fronts: "one was the scientific objective and the other was technological. Now, scientific objectives have been fully accomplished, which include moon surface mapping, topographical studies, radar-based studies and other.”

He also added that this was still a significant moment for India considering that no country has previously been able to accomplish a soft landing in under two attempts. “Even the USA, which started its space journey much, much before us, many years before us, when we were still singing nursery rhymes 'Chanda Mama Door Ke', could manage soft landing only in the eighth attempt”, he said. “But, we, having learned from the experience of the other nations, I am sure, we would succeed soon.”

He also stressed that since the Orbiter was in working condition, it would be reused to reduce costs when India attempts another landing with the new mission: Chandrayaan-3.

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