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US online channel is using Chandrayaan-2 story to sell telescopes

Lalit Shastri

After NASA has virtually declared that Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram is not traceable, Indian Space Research organisation (ISRO) has stopped all attempts to cummunicate with Lander Vikram and regardless of ISRO’s failure to soft land Lander Vikram on Moon, there is this online channel “Deep Astronomy” that’s using the Chandrayaan-2 story to sell telescopes being marketed by OPT Telescopes, a US company that claims to be the largest telescope retailer in the world.

Deep Astronomy in its Space Fan News, which has also been published on Youtube on 6 November with the title “Will ISRO Be Able to Communicate with Chandrayaan 2 Vikram Lander?” brings in focus how ISRO had lost contact with the Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander on September 7, 2019, as it made its descent to the lunar surface on the south pole of the Moon.

In this video, the Deep Astronomy presenter is rightly all praise for ISRO’s track record and achievements. Talking of space exploration and mishaps, the Deep Astronomy presenter draws an analogy between the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger and the fire in Apollo 1 capsule, the crashing of the Mars Orbiter and more recently the “crash” of India’s Moon Lander Vikram.

The presenter goes on to underscore fantastic achievements of ISRO in terms of aerospace engineering, including sending an orbiter to Mars and says, obviously therefore expectations were high when India launched the latest advanced craft along with the Lander and the Rover “to survey the frozen water composition of the South Pole”.

Without waiting for the final outcome of an objective probe by ISRO into the causes leading to the failure when it came to soft landing Vikram on Moon, Deep Astronomy has tried to generate hype around the Chandrayaan-2 Mission at this stage by describing the lander as India’s most advanced lander ever. This is an overstatement that lacks even an iota of information to convey in concrete terms whether or not tests had been conducted by ISRO on lander proto-types or alternative lander models for the Chandrayaan-2 mission before the space agency opted for Lander Vikram with not four but five thrusters. Hence what’s been stated by Deep Astronomy in its video is apparently meant for the less informed and the gullible.

The presenter with his loaded yankee accent also talks of the “extremely complex release maneuver” between the orbiter and the lander. He also says at one point that the separation of lander Vikram from the orbiter was spectacular. Now…how does he know that it was spectacular. Where are the pictures or the exact video to show the un-docking of the two. Also, he highlights one report from ISRO on September 9 that said “the Lander was in one piece and was in a tilted position”. This point has been backed by an NDTV clip that says that the Lander was unbroken and in a tilted position following a hard landing. Now the question arises why this channel has failed to seek evidence or ask what was the basis of the news flashed promptly by sections of media that said, citing ISRO, that the lander had been located and that it was in a tilted position.

Pushing forward what appears to be a well-crafted script, the presenter also talks of “immaculately planned de-orbiting maneuvers” guided by an assembly of leading edge onboard computers and goes on to add that the built in system considered massive data in real time from an array of highly precise velocity, height, altitude, direction and positioning measuring instruments. Also what prompts him to certify that India was placed “in an ideal position to attempt its first soft landing on Moon using five rocket engines and eight altitude control clusters”.

Expanding the imagery further he goes on to state that the on board computers battled with the Lander’s somersault rotation as it swept from side to side when its communication was totally cut off with ground control at about an altitude of 2.5 kms from the moon’s surface.

The video presenter has oversimplified the issues involved by stating the obvious. He has said that the failure to soft land could have been due to malfunction in the lander’s propulsion system during the end of the rough break phase and the absolute navigation phase. He also adds “it should be no surprise that it was integration of a brand new technology and Vikram’s engines that would have caused one of them to misfire or over calibrate. Others, according to him, have suggested that the problem was in Vikram’s software and that its logic was flawed resulting in the accidental flip or the somersault. While many believe it could be a combination of these issues”. All this, knowingly or unknowingly, amounts to saying that Chandrayaan-2 was a grand experiment with brand new technology and in such a scenario mishaps cannot be ruled out.

Lander’s is just a single failure among many successes of the overall mission, Deep Astronomy points out as it goes on state that the Mission not only proved that India can engineer an advanced orbiter and send it to the moon but the maneuver of separating the orbiter and the lander was particularly spectacular. Although the lander has been lost, the orboter can still go by its mission and survey the South Pole of the Moon for about 7 and half years.

Pointing out that the loss of lander will be a crucial failure for India to learn from, the presenter goes on to quote Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has said that the landing failure notwithstanding, India is proud of ISRO’s numerous achievements.

The Deep Astronomy video concludes with the presenter doubling up as a salesman for OPT telescopes.

Postscript: What should not be forgotten is that Chandrayaan-2 Mission was moving a step ahead of Chandrayaan-1 that had successfully placed the orbiter in the Lunar orbit in 2008. Besides the failure to execute the soft landing on Moon in 2019 could be linked to flawed software, engine misfire and calibration related issues as pointed out by Deep Astronomy but what cannot be swept under the carpet is the big question whether or not time-tested technology had been tinkered with or given a go-bye at the behest of some decision makers at the top in ISRO. Only an objective inquiry will establish the truth in this regard.

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