In a major setback for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), communications between the 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.
The lander, Vikram was supposed to land on the moon’s surface at 1:55 am following what ISRO had described as “15 minutes of terror”.
Following the Chandryaan-2 heartbreak, a visually disappointed ISRO Chairman K Sivan announcing the loss of the communication link 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 am 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.
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.
After the announcement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi patted the ISRO chief on his back and told the scientists that “what you have done (already) is not a small achievement”.
Addressing the scientists at the space agency, PM Modi said, “Don’t lose hope. Be courageous. There are ups and downs in life. What you all have done is not a small thing. You have done a great service to the country, science and mankind. I am with you. I wish you all the best”.
“India is proud of our scientists! They’ve given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!” the Prime Minister said in an early morning tweet.
Chandrayaan-2, India’s second moon mission spacecraft, lifted off successfully onboard the “Bahubali” rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh on July 22.
The prestigious moon mission was aimed at making India the fourth nation in the world to land and ride on the moon after the US, Russia and China.
Chandrayaan-2 is a sequel to Chandrayaan-1, India’s maiden unmanned moon mission which was announced by late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the 56th Independence Day in 2003.