Chandrayaan-2: Isro loses contact with Vikram lander moments before touchdown; all that happened last night

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It was an anxious moment for scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and millions in India and abroad when Vikram Lander of Chandrayaan-2 lost contact with Isro’s ground control, just moments before its scheduled landing on Saturday. All hopes are not lost yet and Isro has said it is analysing data gathered so far.

Tension on the faces of scientists at Isro was understandable after the control centre lost contact with Vikram. Years of hard work of hundreds of scientists had gone into the preparations of this ambitious Moon mission that would make India the fourth country to soft-land a module on Moon’s surface.

In a statement, Isro said Vikram Lander was moving as per pans but just 2.1 km above Moon’s surface, it lost contact with ground control centre. “The data is being analysed,” said Isro chief K Sivan.

At present, we do not know the exact status of Vikram and how it landed on Moon. Isro has said further details will be announced once it analyses data.

Prime Minister Narednra Modi, who was at Isro to watch the historic moment, told Isro scientists they should not be disheartened and India is proud of their achievements.

HOW THINGS UNFOLDED

Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram Lander was progressing on its planed trajectory and it 1.37am, Isro tweeted Vikram has started its powered descent, the first phase of which was rough braking.

When Vikaram successfully completed rough braking, scientists clapped in jubilation. At 1.49am, Isro tweeted Vikram has entered the second phase of powered descent and that rough braking has ended and fine braking started. It is in this phase that Vikram lost contact with Isro’s control centre.

Scientists led by Isro chief K Sivan went into a huddle and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was keenly tracking the progress, was briefed on the development. A sombre mood enveloped the Mission Operations Complex at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC).

Later, K Sivan, who was seen engaged in intense discussions with some scientists, announced that the control centre has lost communication with Vikram.

“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 chief K Sivan said, adding that the data is being analysed.

Till the communication was snapped, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too was seen glued to the giant monitors that were tracking Vikram’s descent.

WHAT PM MODI TOLD Isro SCIENTISTS

To boost their morale, Prime Minister Narendra Modi briefly addressed Isro scientists and said they should not lose hope. “I see disappointment on your faces. There is no need to get dejected. We have learnt a lot,” PM Modi said. “These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be! We remain hopeful and will continue working hard on our space programme,” he told Isro scientists.

At 3.59 am, Isro in a tweet said Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation at 8am from Isro’s control centre.

WHAT Isro SCIENTISTS ARE ANALYSING NOW

At present scientists at Isro are analysing the telemetric data of Vikram’s descent trajectory. They are also analysing the final emissions and signals besides last sets of sensor data downloads from Vikram.

Isro scientists are also making continuous efforts to restore communication with Vikram lander.

The orbiter is being used to map the area for clues and establish if there were any performance divergences.

Scientists are also trying to obtain any possible sensor data from global space network.

WHAT WAS VIKRAM SUPPOSED TO DO?

The 1,471-kg Vikram Lander, 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.

Vikram Lander carried three scientific payloads to conduct surface and sub-surface science experiments. It 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.

After landing, the rover Pragyan, housed in Vikram, was to roll down from Vikram to explore the surrounding lunar terrain. This was supposed to happen a few hours after the planned soft-landing.

WHAT ELSE IS PART OF CHANDRAYAAN-2

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.

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