Just minutes before the Vikram Lander was supposed to touch down for India’s first-ever soft landing on the Moon, the spacecraft stopped all communications. The lander was launched on the Chandrayaan-2 mission by the India Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to explore for water near the south pole of the moon. Loss of communications before a landing usually means that the spacecraft has failed and that it will crash into the surface. However, initial orbital observations of the Vikram Lander show that it may still be in one piece.
“It had a hard-landing very close to the planned (touch-down) site as per the images sent by the on-board camera of the orbiter”, The Times of India quoted an unnamed ISRO official as saying. “The lander is there as a single piece, not broken into pieces. It’s in a tilted position.”
This keeps hope alive that the controllers at ISRO may be able to restore contact with the mission and continue on with the science. The agency’s odds of success depend on if the Vikram lander’s antennas are pointing either toward the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter still circling the moon or toward Earth itself. The lander has solar panels at a variety of angles and carries internal batteries as well, upping its odds of survival at a strange angle on the surface.
ISRO’s look at the lander so far has come from the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter. The duo launched on July 22 and separated on Sept. 2 in preparation for the moon-landing attempt. Chandrayaan-2 is designed to last a year circling the moon from pole to pole and while carrying a suite of eight instruments. One of those instruments, according to ISRO, is the highest-resolution camera to be placed in lunar orbit to date, capable of resolving features just 1 foot (0.3 meters) across.
The orbiter follows India’s successful Chandrayaan-1 orbiter, which carried the device that confirmed slabs of water ice are hidden below the lunar surface inside craters at the south pole. The Chandrayaan-2 mission was designed to build on this success by augmenting a second orbiter with a lander and rover that would target the southernmost landing site to date.