ISRO has lost contact with the lander of the Chandrayaan-2 mission
– News of September 10, 2019 –
Last July, the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-2 took off for the Moon. It was taking with it a lander called Vikram and a little rover named Pragyan. After a travel of a few weeks to the orbit of the Moon, friday night the lunar landing attempt was made. So far, ISRO, the Indian Space Agency, has been very successful in its various space missions. For example, it has successfully launched a space probe into orbit around the planet Mars the first attempt. But on the side of the lunar surface, it’s more complicated.
Vikram started its propulsive descent from an orbit of 36 by 110 km. It was targeting an unexplored area only 500 km from the South Pole of the Moon. After having followed an optimal trajectory up at 2.1 km above the surface of the Moon, the communications were suddenly lost. This is obviously a very bad sign, but that may not be as hopeless as it sounds.
A few tens of hours after the loss of contact, Chandrayaan-2 which remained in lunar orbit located the lander by thermal imaging. It seems to be in one piece but in an inclined position. These descent systems brought it close to the targeted landing site. So we can say that apart from losing communication, the descent of the lander may not have gone so badly.
It remains to know in what are the damages on Vikram and whether the Indian space agency will succeed in restoring contact. Attempts will take place continuously over the next two weeks. After that, it will be the beginning of the lunar night. The lander and rover are not equipped to survive and this will bell the end of the mission.
On Earth, India dreamed of becoming the fourth nation to successfully place a spacecraft on the Moon, after the USSR, the United States and China. It seems, however, difficult to add Vikram to the list since it will certainly not be able to carry out its scientific mission. This failure comes in addition to the failure of Beresheet a few months earlier. It reminds that despite its proximity, the Moon is not an easy goal.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission is far from over. Most of the scientific payload is on the orbiter, which has no problem. Its predecessor Chandrayaan-1 had helped to establish the presence of water ice in the lunar soil. Chandrayaan-2 should help us make even more accurate estimates of the amount of water in the Moon. Chandrayaan-2 will also study topography and mineralogy. This will make possible to create 3D maps that will facilitate subsequent missions, unless ISRO succeeds in saving part of Vikram and Pragyan.
Chandrayaan-2 is in lunar orbit
– News of August 20, 2019 –
If everything goes as planned, it is today that the Indian mission Chandrayaan-2 must be inserted into lunar orbit. It will carry out 4 maneuvers of adjustment of its new orbit until August 30th. September 1st will be the lunar landing attempt. On September 7th, a small rover will be deployed for a few days of exploration. For ISRO, this is the first non-destructive landing attempt. If successful, the orbiter, the lander and the rover could provide very interesting scientific results.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission was successfully launched
– News of July 23, 2019 –
The Indian Space Agency has just launched its Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission. The launch was successful, but the spacecraft, the lander and the rover still have a long way to go. They will do a lot of maneuvers in the coming weeks to gradually change their orbit until captured by the gravity of the Moon. If all goes well, the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft is expected to arrive in September. It will then proceed with the third lunar landing attempt of the year, after Chang’e 4 and Beresheet.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission’s rover will not wake up from its first lunar night
– News of July 21, 2019 –
The Pragyan rover of India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission is scheduled to operate for 14 days, which is a lunar day. At the fall of the lunar night, it will plunge into a sleep of which he will not wake up. We may wonder why it can not restart once the sun is back since it is equipped with solar panels. The periods of prolonged cold are very harmful for the systems of the robots on the surface of the Moon.
Temperatures can drop to -173 degrees Celsius in the middle of the lunar night. Batteries and processors are particularly sensitive to these extreme conditions. On the planet Mars, NASA uses heating resistors and insulating boxes to keep them between -40 degrees and 40 degrees Celsius. The Pragyan rover, which weighs 27 kilos, does not have this type of equipment. Its electronic system will be completely exposed to the very low temperatures of the lunar night.
The Moon is a particularly hostile environment for rovers, far more than the planet Mars. Beware of the cold but also the heat in the middle of each lunar day. When the sun is at its zenith, the Chinese rover Yutu 2 is forced to pause its operations to avoid overheating. With ground temperatures that can exceed 100 degrees Celsius, the risk of breakdowns is increased. So far, Yutu 2 has managed to survive its first six months on the surface of the Moon without too much trouble, but it is likely that it will eventually succumb to the heat or lunar cold.
Obviously, the problem is even worse if we imagine one day implant an inhabited base on the Moon. The astronauts’ habitats must have very good means of thermal regulation and the management of energy during the lunar nights will leave no room for error. It is partly for this reason that the eternal peaks of light are of interest to space agencies. These eternal peaks of lights promise to facilitate energy supply during the two weeks of lunar nights.
The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission is postponed
– News of July 16, 2019 –
The Chandrayaan-2 mission was scheduled to take off on July 15th. However, it was postponed. 56 minutes before the scheduled launch time, the attempt was canceled due to a technical problem on the GSLV Mach III launcher. The next launch windows will open on July 16th, 29th and 30th. ISRO has not yet announced the date of the next Chandrayaan-2 launch attempt.
The Indian Chandrayaan-2 mission will take off towards the Moon on July 15, 2019
– News of July 11, 2019 –
On July 15, 2019, the Chandrayaan-2 mission will take off aboard a GSLV Mk III launcher towards the Moon just over ten years after the first mission of the same name. This time, the Indian Space Agency (ISRO) hopes to reach the lunar surface and even roll around with a small rover. The moon landing will take place on September 6th. If the mission is a success, India will become the fourth world power to land on the lunar soil, after the United States, the USSR and China. As we saw at the beginning of the year with Beresheet, landing on the Moon is complicated. But ISRO is accustomed to achieving feats with a very limited budget. It is the only space agency in the world to have achieved a Martian mission the first attempt.
Chandrayaan-2 will continue the discoveries of Chandrayaan-1
The idea of an Indian mission to the Moon was born in the late 1990s and was approved by the Indian Prime Minister in 2003, the same year as the Chinese Chang’e program. The first lunar orbiters of the two countries then took off in 2007 and 2008. These very similar agendas are reminiscent of a mini Moon race between the two rising powers. On the Indian side, Chandrayaan-1 was the first space exploration mission. It was a small orbiter of a ton. ISRO had made the choice to collaborate strongly with other countries. More than half of the scientific instruments shipped by Chandrayaan-1 were provided by NASA and ESA.
After three weeks of travel and 9 uses of its small engine, Chandrayaan-1 seamlessly entered lunar orbit on November 8, 2008. The Indian space agency hoped to be able to use the space probe for two years, but it was worked just over 10 months. It is however a sufficient period to realize 90% of its scientific mission and to revolutionize our knowledge of the Moon.
Shortly after its arrival, Chandrayaan-1 dropped a small impactor at the south pole of the Moon. It was equipped with three scientific instruments including a mass spectrometer that measured significant amounts of water during its descent, so much water that the mission leaders wondered if the spectrometers had been properly decontaminated. But the American M3 instrument installed on the orbiter quickly confirmed a similar detection. Designed to map the mineralogy of the Moon, it also indicated the presence of water ice in increasing concentrations.
As it approached the south pole of the Moon, ISRO was checking its results with NASA and in September 2009 the two space agencies announced the discovery of water at the lunar south pole. Ten years later, this discovery still conditions almost all the exploration efforts towards the Moon. Everyone wants to go to the South Pole : the Chinese, the Americans, the Europeans and of course the Indians. This is also the time it took the Indian space agency to prepare for its second lunar mission. The priorities of ISRO are not the same as the Chinese space agency CNSA. The CNSA has focused all its efforts on the Moon while the Indian Space Agency has used this period to launch its first Martian mission successfully.
Chandrayaan-2 will locate and quantify lunar water ice
Thanks to Chandrayaan-2, India wants to move up a gear. The mission that will take off on July 15, 2019 is much more ambitious than Chandrayaan-1. Once again, the spacecraft will adopt a small step travel strategy. Injected into a very elliptical Earth orbit, it will gradually increase its apogee until it can rush towards the Moon after being captured by lunar gravity. It will perform reverse maneuvers to reduce and circularize its new orbit. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter would then have to evolve only 120 km from the lunar surface for a period of one year.
Chandrayaan-2 carries five scientific instruments : a camera, two spectrometers, a spectroscope and a radar. The radar should make possible to probe the lunar surface to a depth of a few tens of meters. It must therefore be used to confirm the presence of water ice deposits in craters that are perpetually in the shade. Chandrayaan-1 has indicated the presence of water ice, Chandrayaan-2 should allow us to discover where it is located exactly and in what quantities.
Vikram and Pragyan, the stars of the Chandrayaan-2 mission
The real stars of the mission, however, will be the lander called Vikram and the rover called Pragyan. Shortly after arrival in lunar orbit, they will detach from the orbiter to move to an even lower orbit of 30 per 100 km. After verifying the proper functioning of all their systems, they will start a descent controlled independently.
As we saw with Beresheet, landing on the Moon is not easy. For India, it will be a first. The maneuver is therefore particularly risky. The lander will use a radar, an inertial center and a navigation camera to analyze the lunar surface and avoid obstacles. It will stabilize at 4 meters above the lunar surface before cutting its engines. The end of the travel will therefore be in free fall with an estimated contact speed of less than five meters per second. The lander and the rover will land on the Moon at the beginning of a lunar day. They are indeed equipped with solar panels and should not survive their first lunar night. It is therefore a mission of a fortnight that awaits them on the surface of the Moon.
The lander Vikram has a mass of 1.4 tons while the rover Pragyan has a mass of 27 kg. The lander embeds five scientific instruments. A bit like InSight on the planet Mars, it embeds a seismometer and a thermal probe, which may help to probe the crust of the lunar south pole. A Langmuir probe, a radio experiment and a laser reflector complete the on-board equipment of the Vikram lander. Pragyan is inspired by Sojourner, NASA’s first Mars rover. In addition to its two navigation cameras, it embeds two spectroscopes that will allow it to analyze the composition of the lunar surface. Compared to other planetary exploration rovers, Pragyan will be a real little racing car. It will travel nearly 500 meters on the lunar surface in 14 days. In comparison, Yutu 2 the rover of the Chinese mission Chang’e 4 has traveled 213 meters in 6 months.
The landing site chosen for Chandrayaan-2 is ideal for exploring the distant past of the Moon
The Chandrayaan-2 lander and rover will attempt to land between the Manizinus C and Simpelius N craters, an area about 70 degrees south latitude. It’s not exactly the south pole of the Moon. Peaks of eternal light and craters perpetually darkened can be found from 80 degrees south latitude. So Pragyan will not roll in a deposit of water ice. But the region chosen for the Moon landing is still very interesting. It contains ghost craters, which formed when the Moon was still geologically active. In some cases, during this period the impact craters could then be filled with lava, leaving only to guess their borders.
We also estimate that the chosen landing site is geologically very old, at least 3.8 billion years old. There is therefore a good chance that the surrounding surface will contain material ejected from the crust before the massive bombardment period that transformed the appearance of the Moon. Chang’e 4 had this chance in the South Pole-Aitken, let’s hope that Pragyan will have time to make the same discovery before sinking into the lunar night.
Chandrayaan-2 is only the beginning of the lunar ambitions of India
The main mission of the lander and the rover is a technological demonstration. The most interesting scientific results will probably come from the orbiter, which will produce 3D maps of the Moon and a radar dive in the heart of craters that have not seen the sun for more than two billion years.
If successful, India has great ambitions for its lunar exploration program. India is developing a manned flight program that will allow it to have its own spaceship in 2022. The Indian space agency is also preparing another Martian mission and a first Venus mission. The Indian private sector is also very active, particularly through the projects of TeamHindus, an organization that until recently developed its own lunar lander, but is now doing so under the CLPS program. ISRO will be a candidate to follow to send men back to the Moon.
The Asian powers will have a major presence on the Moon
For the future of the Chandrayaan program, a collaboration with JAXA, the Japanese space agency, was mentioned. A hypothetical Chandrayaan-3 mission would seek to land even closer to the poles. This time, the lander and rover would be designed to survive the lunar nights and conduct on-site sample analysis. Such a mission was mentioned for 2024. But JAXA could commit significant funds to the European Heracles mission, which may limit the scope for further collaboration.
Like the rest of the world, the Asian continent in any case staring at the Moon. Chinese, Japanese and Indian will soon be joined by South Koreans. South Korea is preparing its first lunar mission for next year. Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter will take off on a Falcon 9 to map the Moon and its precious resources. A second mission will look a lot like Chandrayaan-2, with a lander and a rover. In a few years, the number of nations to have landed on the Moon could have doubled.
The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission is once again delayed
– News from April 30, 2019 –
In India, the failure of Israel’s Beresheet mission caused ISRO to think hard about India’s lunar exploration program. The Chandrayaan-2 mission due to be launched in April was once again delayed. We must now wait for the month of July. It will be ISRO’s first attempt to send a lander and a rover on the moon.
So far, India has been incredibly efficient in its space program. ISRO has managed to send orbiters around the Moon and Mars without failures and with a very low budget.