Indian moon lander spotted on lunar surface after worrying radio silence

9 Sep 2019

Trajectory graphics of India’s uncrewed spacecraft are displayed on a big screen at a media centre set up at ISRO’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network facility in Bangalore. Image: Aijaz Rahi/AP

While the Chandrayaan-2 mission is not over just yet, the radio silence from its Vikram moon lander has India fearing the worst.

The lander module from India’s moon mission has been located on the lunar surface, one day after it lost contact with the space station, the head of the nation’s space agency said. Efforts are under way to try to establish contact with it.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency cited Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chair K Sivan as saying cameras from the moon mission’s orbiter had located the lander. “It must have been a hard landing,” the PTI quoted Sivan as saying.

The space agency said it lost touch with the Vikram lunar lander on Saturday (7 September) as it made its final approach to the moon’s south pole to deploy a rover to search for signs of water.

ISRO employees looking solemn after news of the failed landing was announced.

ISRO employees in Bangalore. Aijaz Rahi/AP

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. The space agency said on Saturday that the lander’s descent was normal until 2km from the lunar surface.

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. The latest mission lifted off on 22 July from the Satish Dhawan space centre in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

After its launch, Chandrayaan-2 spent several weeks making its way towards the moon, ultimately entering lunar orbit on 20 August. The Vikram lander separated from the mission’s orbiter on 2 September and began a series of braking manoeuvres to lower its orbit and ready itself for landing.

Only three nations – the US, the former Soviet Union and China – have landed a spacecraft on the moon.

– PA Media