Vikram had a "hard landing", the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said on Friday, as it released high-resolution images captured by its reconnaissance orbiter of the Moon's unchartered south pole where the Chandrayaan 2 lander attempted to soft-land during the ambitious mission three weeks ago.
The module had attempted a soft landing on a small patch of lunar highland smooth plains between Simpelius N and Manzinus C craters before losing communication with ISRO on September 7. The site was about 600 km from the south pole in a relatively ancient terrain, according to the US space agency.
"Vikram had a hard landing and the precise location of the spacecraft in the lunar highlands has yet to be determined,” the NASA said. “The scene was captured from a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Quickmap fly-around of the targeted landing site image width is about 150 kilometres across the centre."
Vikram was scheduled to touch down on September 7. This event was India's first attempt to soft land on the Moon and could have propelled it into a select club of countries to have landed on the lunar surface. After Vikram lost contact with ground stations, just 2.1 km above the touchdown site, the possibility of establishing contact with the lander had a deadline of September 21, because after that the region entered into a lunar night.
ISRO had said the mission life of the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover it carried will be one lunar day, which is equal to 14 Earth days.
The lunar nights can be very cold, especially in the south polar region where Vikram is lying. Temperatures could drop to as low as minus 200 degrees Celsius during the lunar night. The instruments aboard the lander are not designed to withstand that kind of temperature. The electronics would not work in absence of solar energy and would get permanently damaged.
The NASA orbiter passed over the Vikram landing site on September 17 and acquired a set of high-resolution images of the area; so far the LROC team has not been able to locate or image the lander.
“LRO will next fly over the landing site on October 14 when lighting conditions will be more favourable,” John Keller, Deputy Project Scientist of the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission, Goddard Space Flight Centre, told PTI via email. To recall, Chandrayaan-2 deployed the Vikram lander on September 3.
"It was dusk when the landing area was imaged and thus large shadows covered much of the terrain; it is possible that the Vikram lander is hiding in a shadow. The lighting will be favourable when LRO passes over the site in October and once again attempts to locate and image the lander," NASA said. Chandrayaan-2 is still orbiting the moon.