Almost two weeks after it lost signal contact with its moon lander Vikram, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has formally put out a six-line statement to imply a closure of sorts on the lander and that it was moving on.
A “national level committee consisting of academicians and ISRO experts [is] analysing the cause of the communication loss with the lander,” said a short, five-point update on Thursday.
Meanwhile all eight devices on the orbiter have been fully turned on, tested and are working well, it said. ISRO Chairman Sivan had earlier said the orbiter’s life could stretch to 7.5 years (instead of a year) because of the fuel saved by an efficiently handled trajectory of the spacecraft.
An ISRO official said he cannot say when the probe committee would give its report; its tenure would depend on the depth of the inquiry. “It must go back to all the tests performed, their results and see how much [information] can be dug out” to understand why the lander did not do its job in the end. The analysis, he said, will be spread across many centres.
The lander of the Chandrayaan-2 mission fell silent on September 7 after it went awry in the last 3 minutes of its descent on moon. ISRO has not been forthcoming with information, especially the status and position of the lander as viewed by its own orbiter and presumably by NASA's 10-year-old Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Two space experts said there was no possibility any more of restoring communication with the lander — something that ISRO was at after the failure.
If they had touched down on moon as per plan, the robotic lander and the rover inside it would have worked for just a lunar day — or roughly 14 days on earth: i.e. until September 20-21.
During the lunar night the lander would not get any sunlight and would not generate power for its working.
It would be night fall now on moon and ISRO seems to have given up its bid to wake the lander from its coma.
Such an attempt may have been possible within the first few hours of loss of contact; now the battery would have drained out, one of the experts said.
The lander is believed to have crashed in either a tilted or an inverted position a little away from its planned site close to the south pole. There was no confirmation from ISRO.
Meanwhile the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter continues to circle moon and visit and click the landing site of Vikram at regular intervals. ISRO has said it has a few early images of the lander from as early as September 7 but has not made them open.
It also reportedly waited for supplementary information from the US spacecraft LRO for confirming the lander's position.
The LRO visited the site on September 17 and its next overfly of the crash site is reported to be on October 14.
A couple of Western news sites writing on space matters cited NASA and said the LRO did take pictures of the fallen Vikram but its visit was at dusk and the pictures were not clear. Chandrayaan-2 itself will repeatedly fly over the southern site.
According to M. Annadurai, former director of the U.R. Rao Satellite Centre who headed the older Chandrayaan-1 project and also the current one until a year back, lunar images normally take some days to be downloaded, processed and enhanced for a good view. It may take two to five days but this, he said, is a special case.
About five years back India and the US established a mechanism to share data from their planetary or lunar missions and identified coordinators on either side. ISRO extensively used LRO's moon terrain data for finalising its landing site, he said.