NASA satellite spots wrecked Indian lander on surface of the moon

3 Dec 2019

Image: © abrilla/

A satellite orbiting the moon has snapped a photo of what’s left of India’s Vikram moon lander.

The remains of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan Vikram lander have been spotted by an orbiting lunar satellite operated by NASA.

Newly released images show that the lander – which crashed in September – had a hard landing, with debris scattered across a large area and one piece located almost 1km away from where it touched down.

The site was discovered by amateur astronomer Shanmuga Subramanian, who contacted NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team with details of his sighting. After receiving this tip, the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images.

“Despite the loss, getting that close to the surface was an amazing achievement,” NASA said of the mission.

Since the LROC team released the first mosaic of the region around the crash site at the end of September, NASA said that many internet sleuths downloaded the images to search for signs of the Vikram lander.

Dots showing where soil was disturbed by the Vikram crash (blue) and where the debris rested (green).

Dots showing where soil was disturbed by the Vikram crash (blue) and where the debris rested (green). Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

While the images for the first mosaic at the impact point were poorly illuminated – making it hard to identify the debris – follow-up images taken in October and November revealed the wreckage in greater detail. Some of the wreckage is large enough to cast a shadow on the lunar surface, NASA added.

The roughly $140m mission, known as Chandrayaan-2, was intended to study permanently shadowed moon craters that are thought to contain water deposits, which were confirmed by the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008.

A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there.

India was not the only nation to attempt a lunar landing of late. An Israeli lander called Beresheet lost contact with its control room back on Earth just 150 metres before it was due to touch down on the moon in February.

The $100m mission had set off aboard a SpaceX rocket with the intention of landing on the moon, taking photographs and conducting some science experiments.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic