If things had gone on well and the Indian lunar craft Vikram soft-landed on moon as expected on September 7 , Vikram and its companion rover Pragyan would have completed taking a close look at moon’s unknown south by now.
Chandrayaan 2 has been circling moon since August 20, its orbiter alone intact.
After a perfect journey from earth since July 22, Vikram unexpectedly crashed on moon three minutes before its descent, without doing its job and also taking down the rover that was in it.
Fourteen days on, the sun has set on the lunar side where the two Indian craft of Chandrayaan-2 mission lie. Their solar-powered batteries would have died out, putting them both to sleep forever on moon.
If a lunar soft-landing eluded India this time, Chandrayaan 1, too, ended prematurely in 2009.
For the second mission, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) planned to soft-land Vikram at a spot 70° south of the lunar equator (crudely comparable to our Antarctic region).
If the craters here can unlock the ancient secrets of the solar system, this cold, shadowed region is also believed to hold abundant water deposits and minerals, which, space agencies believe, may support their future moon landing missions.
Other space-faring countries are also focussing their moon missions on the south of moon.
M. Annadurai, who led most of Chandrayaan 2 work until retiring a year back as director of ISRO’s U.R. Rao Satellite Centre, had earlier said that ISRO mainly wanted this to prove an indigenously developed soft-landing technology. It would pave the way for future lunar landers or sample return missions.
Vikram, with its three payloads, was an important part of the Indian Chandrayaan-2 mission.
It and the rover were to have done on-site probes of the lunar surface and below, study lunar quakes and confirm the information given by Chandrayaan 1. That local analysis is lost even if the craft had lived there for a lunar day (14 earth days), he had said.
The orbiter is working well and is set to complete Chandrayaan-1’s unfinished scientific work and confirm its findings about presence of water and minerals.
Analysis is on: Sivan
Meanwhile agency reports quoted ISRO Chairman K. Sivan as saying at IIT Bhubaneswar on Saturday that the crash is being analysed but they cannot restore the link with Vikram. It was his first public statement since the lander went silent.
The orbiter goes around moon 100 km above it. All its eight instruments are working, taking pictures and data of lunar surface, he said.
ISRO has also said that “a national-level committee consisting of academicians and ISRO experts [is] analysing the cause of the communication loss with the lander.”
ISRO has not disclosed the early images of the lander’s crash site. It also reportedly waited for additional data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter for confirming Vikram's position.
The LRO, 10 years in orbit, visited the site on September 17 and its next overfly of the crash site is reported to be on October 14.
Western news reports citing NASA said it was dusk when the LRO flew over the crash site and the pictures were not clear. Chandrayaan-2 itself will repeatedly fly over the southern site.
According to Dr. Annadurai, lunar images normally take about two to five days to be downloaded, processed and enhanced for a good view. However, considering the exigency, it could be speeded up.
Some five years back, ISRO extensively used the LRO’s moon terrain data for finalising its landing site, he said. India and the US have established a mechanism and teams to share data from their planetary or lunar missions.