Chandrayaan 2: Dear ISRO, there’s always a next time

By Sourabh kulesh - September 7, 2019
The Vikram lander was supposed to make a soft landing on the South Pole of the moon, however, things did not go out as planned and communication from the lander to the ground stations was lost just at....

It was a tense but joyous atmosphere at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) ground station when India’s first attempt to land a vessel on the Moon’s South Pole was nearing its success. But just 2.1km above the landing surface, communication from the vessel to the ground stations was lost. Vikram lander, named after Indian scientist, physicist and astronomer Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai who laid the foundation of ISRO, was found wanting of ‘Eureka!’ The high drama pushed everyone to the edges of their seats until an official statement from the Indian space agency brought tears in the eyes of Dr Kailasavadivoo Sivan, the Chairperson of ISRO.

Where did it all go ‘south’?

K Sivan had already prepared the world for ‘15 minutes of terror’ -- the time that Vikram lander was supposed to take to make a soft landing on the South Pole of the moon. The Vikram lander was to descent from a height of about 30km on a specific spot of the lunar surface, which was pre-decided by the scientists. The powered descent was to land Vikram on a surface with an inclination of less than 12 degrees. This would have made sure that the vessel doesn’t topple on touchdown.

The world feasted their eyes as the lander maneuvered towards the Lunar South Pole, ticking all the boxes on ISRO’s list. The joy on the faces of scientists at the ground station suddenly wiped off when the team failed to receive a response from the lander. The tense scientists went in a state of dismay when the communication was lost. Later in an official communication, ISRO said that Vikram lander’s descent was as planned and a ‘normal performance’ was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km from the landing spot, however, after that no communication from lander was received. ISRO is currently waiting for the data from the vessel and will finally reveal what exactly went wrong during the powered descent.



What next for ISRO?

Even if things did not go according to the plan and the missing communication data is still being analysed for divergence, Indian scientists will not have much time to come out of the situation. ISRO already has other missions lined-up for the next couple of years. The Indian space agency plans to send astronauts to space by 2022. There is an Orbiter mission to Mars in the pipeline for 2022/2023. There is a mission to Venus -- the second planet from the Sun-- in 2023. The Chandrayaan-3 mission is already planned for late 2020s and the preparations are underway for a mission for Sun. ISRO is also eying to build a space station.

Numbers game in Chandrayaan 2 mission

  1. As per a news report, India was 0.0006 percent close to becoming the first country to do a soft-landing on the Moon’s South Pole before Vikram went silent 2.1km above the lunar surface.

  2. According to a report by US space agency NASA, about 40 percent of lunar missions in the last 60 years have failed.

  3. Chandrayaan 2 traveled a distance of 3,83,998 km. The distance between the Earth and Moon is 3,84,000 km.  

  4. Chandrayaan 2 carried 2,542 kgs of fuel to the moon.

  5. Only 5 per cent of the mission has been lost, that is the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover. The remaining 95 perc ent, which is the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter, is in the lunar orbit.

  6. Vikram lander and Pragyan rover were to spend at least one lunar day, which is 14 Earth days, on the moon’s surface. 

  7. Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III), which carried the 1.4 tonne Vikram lander and a 27kg Pragyan rover, is nicknamed ‘Baahubali’ or Fat Boy. The 640 tonne rocket is India's heaviest launcher and this was its third mission.

  8. Had Vikram made a successful soft-landing on the moon's surface, India would become the fourth country in the world to do so.

  9. The total cost of the Chandrayaan-2 mission was about $124 million, that is, a little over Rs 888 crores. This includes the $31 million (approx Rs 223 crore) price tag for the launch and $93 million (approx Rs 666 crores) for the satellite. The is less than half of the budget of the recent Hollywood blockbuster ‘Avengers Endgame’, which was made for $356 million (approx Rs 2551 crores).

  10. Chandrayaan-2 will revolve around the moon and study the heavenly body remotely for a year.

  • Tags
  • Chandrayaan 2
  • ISRO
  • Vikram
  • Vikaram lander
  • Pragyaan
  • Pragyaan Rover
  • K.Sivan
  • Lunar Orbit
  • Moon
  • Lunar South Pole