Chandrayaan 2: Vikram on the cusp of historic lunar landing

No spacecraft has ever touched down on the lunar south.

Updated - December 03, 2021 08:15 am IST

Published - September 05, 2019 10:56 pm IST - Bengaluru

A artist’s depiction of the Chandrayaan 2 Lander Vikram on the moon. Photo: YouTube/ISRO Official

A artist’s depiction of the Chandrayaan 2 Lander Vikram on the moon. Photo: YouTube/ISRO Official

Will India’s Vikram alight on the moon in the wee hours of September 7? Will Chandrayaan-2 create space history and make us the first country to place a spacecraft on moon’s promising southern polar region? Will the tricoloured wheels of rover Pragyan touchdown on the bumpy lunar surface?

“The entire world awaits the data from Chandrayaan-2,” said K.Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation. “Our mission will be giving inputs for future programmes” of space agencies such as NASA, which have big plans ranging from sending probes to human habitation of the uncharted southern polar region, Dr. Sivan had said as the spacecraft neared the moon.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be at the Mission Operations Complex at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Peenya around midnight to watch the event as it happens., amid hundreds of engineers operating the mission operations. As many as 74 high school students who cleared an online space quiz last month are special guests.

The world is also watching: ISRO will telecast it live on Doordarshan, National Geographic will have a live show hosted by astronaut Jerry Linenger and an estimated 300-400 journalists from across India are expected to be covering it from ISTRAC.


Only the then USSR, the USA and China have landed a spacecraft on moon so far. A successful landing will be a fitting finale to the mission. The last 60-odd days have been a mix of anticipation and trepidation for the various ISRO teams that have been minutely handling every turn and [engine] `burn’ of Chandrayaan-2 since it took off the ground on July 22.

“Those 15 minutes of terror” is how Dr. Sivan has described the last moments before the lander descends on moon.

Vikram the lander is primed to touch down on the lunar surface roughly between 1.30 a.m. and 2.30 a.m. How will the engineers sitting some four lakh km away at the ISTRAC mission control centre in the Peenya industrial suburb here know if the lander has indeed descended?


Sitting glued to their consoles, all they have are the telemetry numbers that keep flashing on their screens. They must constantly check if everything is going in the right direction until The Moment.

The path in space is always full of risks. Soft-landing missions of other agencies have had 37% success. Orbiter Chandrayaan-1 of 2008 failed a few months early. The Israeli robotic lander Beresheet crashed on moon on April 11. Chandrayaan-2 itself had a last-minute hiccup on the launch pad and took off a week late. Dr Sivan says all those lessons have been included in this mission.


Although ISRO has done Chandrayaan-1 and the Mars Orbiter Mission (2013), with the Chandrayaan-2, “We are going to land on moon for the first time, and the first to land near the moon’s south pole. We are going to be in a place where we [or others] might land later. The soft-landing of September 7 seems terrifying,” Dr. Sivan had said.

ISRO feels confident of reaching the lunar spots thanks to advanced technologies, the numerous simulations it did on the orbiter, lander and the rover, the tests on their subsystems, sensors and thrusters.

Chandrayaan-2’s spacecraft team leader Ritu Karidal and many engineers of this mission have also been part of the deftly calibrated MOM, which was ISRO’s historic success on the first attempt to orbit Mars.

“We have done whatever is humanly posible. We do expect a successful landing,” he reasoned.

Although it took off on July 22 instead of July 15, it has been smooth sailing. The spacecraft has stuck precisely to the path and crossed each milestone as it should through the last 46 or 47 days.

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