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India’s space agency loses contact with Moon lander

India’s second Moon mission suffered a setback as communications between the Vikram lander and the ground station was lost minutes before its scheduled landing Saturday in a previously unexplored region of the Moon.

New Delhi, 7 September 2019 (dpa/MIA) – India’s second Moon mission suffered a setback as communications between the Vikram lander and the ground station was lost minutes before its scheduled landing Saturday in a previously unexplored region of the Moon.

“The descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to 2.1 kilometres from the surface. Subsequently, communication from the lander to the ground station was lost. Data is being analysed,” said Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman Kailasavadivoo
Sivan.

Sivan’s brief statement at the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bengaluru came about 15 minutes after the lander was scheduled to touch down in an unexplored region near the lunar South Pole.

The scientists gathered at the centre were seen intermittently clapping during a live telecast as they watched a graph of the trajectory and changing data on their monitors as the lander began its descent.

About half an hour later the data stopped changing on the screens.

In a brief update two hours later, an ISRO spokesman said the data was still being analysed and a scheduled media briefing had been cancelled.

The lander was fully automated and not controlled from the earth station.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was present at the tracking centre consoled the dejected scientists saying: “India is proud of you. You have given your best.”

Modi soon left the centre but said in tweet: “These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!”

The 142-million-dollar Chandrayaan-2 Mission was launched from a base in southern India on July 22. Chandra means Moon and yaan is vehicle in Sanskrit.

The spacecraft comprised an orbiter, the lander and a rover carried inside the lander.

Sivan had said during earlier briefings that the soft landing of the Vikram lander was the most difficult task undertaken by the space agency and that the 15 minutes to landing would be “terrifying” for ISRO scientists.

Had the lander completed its mission successfully, India would have become the fourth country to make a soft or controlled landing on the Moon joining the United States, Russia and China.

The lander and rover were to map the surface of the previously unexplored South Pole region, examine its composition and seek water.

Attempted soft landings on the Moon have had a success rate of around 36 per cent, Delhi-based space expert Ajay Lele said.

A landing attempt by Israel in April this year ended in failure. China, however, achieved a successful landing on the dark side of the moon in January, a feat not attempted before.

The orbiter is successfully orbiting the Moon and is expected to send images back to the ISRO’s command centre for a year.

For India, it is the second mission to the moon. The first lunar probe “Chandrayaan-1” was launched in 2008 and had orbited the Moon without landing on it.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission came amid renewed interest in the Moon and in a year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which saw US astronauts walk on the lunar surface..

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