In a last stage snag, communications between India’s moon lander Vikram and the orbiter got snapped as the former was only 2.1 km away from its designated landing spot on the moon’s South Pole early on Saturday, throwing suspense over the fate of Rs 978 crore Chandrayaan-2 mission.
Announcing loss of the communication link, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K. Sivan said that the performance of the lander was as per the plan till it was at an altitude of 2.1 km from the moon surface.
The communication link got snapped after that, he added.
All was going well with the 1,471 kg Vikram that began its descent at about 1.38 a.m. from an altitude of 30 km at a velocity of 1,680 metres per second. The lander was smoothly coming down with ISRO officials applauding at regular intervals and their faces beaming with pride.
The lander successfully completed its rough braking phase with its descent speed going down well.
It was then communication was lost, throwing a pall of gloom at the ISRO centre where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and students from across the country had gathered.
On the screen it was seen that Vikram slightly changed from its planned path and then the link got snapped.
Meanwhile, the 2,379 kg Chandrayaan-2 orbiter continues to fly around the moon. Its mission life is one year.
Officials at the space agency’s telemetry, tracking and command network (Istrac) were checking out the problem and the data was being analysed.
While an ISRO scientist said it was possible that the communications got snapped as the lander crash-landed, after losing control when its thrusters were switched off during its descent, another said that all is not lost as far as the mission is concerned.
“Only 5 per cent of the mission has been lost – Vikram the lander and Pragyan the rover – while the remaining 95 per cent – that is the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter – is orbiting the moon successfully,” an ISRO official told IANS who did not want to be identified.
While the ISRO officials were crestfallen, Prime Minister Modi told them: “Be courageous.”
Interacting with the gloomy-faced scientists at the control room of the ISTRAC, he said: “Whatever you have done till now is no mean feat.”
“The the nation is proud of you. You all have served the nation and done a great service to science and mankind. Move ahead with lots of courage. I am with you, hope for the best,” he said, patting ISRO Chairman K. Sivan on the back.
Expressing appreciation for their efforts, he said: “We are learning a lot and would continue doing so in future. This journey would continue… Move ahead with courage.
President Ram Nath Kovind, in a tweet, also praised the “exemplary courage and commitment” of ISRO and said that the country was proud of it.
Other leaders also praised the ISRO and urged its scientists not to lose heart.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the ISRO’s attempts in getting the Chandrayaan-2 close to the moon’s surface has made every Indian proud.
“India stands with our committed and hard working scientists at ISRO.
“My best wishes for future endeavours,” he tweeted.
The Congress said that the entire country stands with the ISRO.
“The nation stands by the entire team of ISRO as we wait in these tense times. Your hard work and commitment has made our nation proud. Jai Hind,” the party tweeted.
Senior party leader and former President Rahul Gandhi also congratulated the ISRO for their “incredible” work which was an “inspiration to every Indian”.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the ISRO scientists have done a great job on the Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission.
“We are proud of our scientists. They have created history. No need to lose heart. Our scientists have done a great job. Jai Hind!” the Aam Aadmi Party convenor tweeted.
Chandrayaan-2 was launched into the space on July 22 by India’s heavy lift rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV Mk III) in a text book style.
The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft comprised three segments – the Orbiter (weighing 2,379 kg, eight payloads), ‘Vikram’ (1,471 kg, four payloads) and rover ‘Pragyan’ (27 kg, two payloads).
After five earth bound orbit raising activities, Chandrayaan-2 was inserted into lunar orbit. The lander Vikram carrying the rover Pragyan separated from Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft on September 2, in its journey towards the moon.