Chandrayaan 2 Lander wreckage found

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO) payload, Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter Camera (LRO-C) released news early morning on December 3, 2019 that they had located wreckage of Vikram, the lander on India’s Chandrayaan 2 mission. The post credited the find to a Chennai based techie, Shanmuga Subramanian.

Vikram impact point and associated debris field. Green dots indicate spacecraft debris (confirmed or likely). Blue dots are locating disturbed soil, likely where small bits of the spacecraft churned up the regolith. “S” indicates debris identified by Shanmuga Subramanian. Portion of NAC mosaic made from images M1328074531L/R and M1328081572L/R acquired 11 November [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Shanmuga located the wreckage by comparing images released by LRO-C on September 26 (but taken on September 17) with the ones released earlier. He alerted NASA and ISRO about his find via Twitter. NASA’s LROC team then imaged the area again in October and November to confirm the debris. He got no response from ISRO as per news reports.

On the next day, ISRO’s Chairman in a statement to the press said that they had already located the lander on the day after the crash. ISRO’s statements from the period said that while the lander was located, efforts were on to establish communication with it. NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) continued efforts to hail Vikram after the crash.

As a scientific organisation, ISRO should know that until they publish, they cannot claim a discovery. The Chairman’s reference to the statement published on the ISRO website only says that they have located the lander. LROC’s success here is locating the debris and publishing the same with image data.

Media reports then claimed that the lander was intact. This was based on a statement received from someone within ISRO. I don’t think news organisations would publish something like this without an inside source. This points to the fact that ISRO did not know the condition in which the Lander was in.

The text released with the LROC image states that the lander wreckage is found 750 meters from the landing site. In Parliament, ISRO submitted a report stating that Vikram hard landed within 500 meters from the designated landing site. This is an aberration. Sankaranarayanan Viswanathan analysed NASA’s own orbital data and released it on Reddit that the site maybe 520 meters from the designated landing site. This seems closer to ISRO’s report than the LROC team’s finding.

This is a nice finish for the articles I write on the Chandrayaan 2 lander, the last of which you can find here. This allows scientists to study the debris to understand Vikram’s last few minutes on the Moon that could help scientists better design Chandrayaan 3’s lander.

I do hope ISRO proactively releases information like this and encourage citizen scientists like Shanmuga. We need more not less of this.

Chandrayaan 2 Lander Module seperation

I was away for a few days from the blog as my parents were visiting. I got news about the separation of the orbiter and lander module as I was having lunch today.

Let’s backtrack a bit, to my last update on the mission. That update was provided when the spacecraft was placed in lunar orbit. At the time, the spacecraft was one integrated unit. It is made of two components – a lunar orbiter module and a lunar lander module.

Lander (Vikram) Module and Orbiter Module of Chandrayaan 2. Image: ISRO Launch Kit

Once it reached lunar orbit, the spacecraft performed the opposite of what did in Earth orbit. In Earth orbit, it used to fire its engines at the point closest to Earth to increase its speed. Now, in lunar orbit, the spacecraft turns around and does the same to reduce its speed. As it does so, the orbit lowers and the spacecraft gets closer to orbit around the Moon.

When we met the spacecraft last, it was in lunar orbit of 114 km x 18072 km. Since then, it did four engine firings on August 21, August 28, August 30 and September 1. Yesterday’s engine firing put the spacecraft in a 119 km x 127 km orbit around the Moon.

ISRO’s tweet visualises the lander module going closer to the Moon while the orbiter module staying in lunar orbit. Image: ISRO Twitter

Today, the lander module and the orbiter module separated. Currently, both are in the same orbit. While the orbiter will continue to be in its current orbit, the lander module will eventually achieve an orbit of 110 km x 36 km. The lander module will then perform a rocket powered descent to the surface of the Moon.

You can follow the latest updates from the mission on the ISRO website. News coverage from The Wire, The Times of India (which has a 51 second video from Times Now which has animated the picture above), ThePrint (which also gives you an idea on what comes next).