Chandrayaan-2: What happened to Lander Vikram; ISRO has a lot to explain

Lalit Shastri

A Government of India press statement with the title “Year End Review: Department of Space”, issued on Monday 30 December, puts the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in the dock as it is absolutely silent about Lander Vikram and Rover while stating that the GSLV-MK III M1, India’s most powerful launch vehicle, capable of launching 4 ton of satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit(GTO), had carried Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter spacecraft to its intended orbit on 22 July 2019.

About Lander Vikram, ISRO has a lot to answer.

Newsroom24x7 was the first to question ISRO on several counts with regard to Chandrayaan-2 Mission after the Lander Vikram fiasco on 7 September. We had kept asking ISRO – where are the separation videos (videos showing the undocking of Lander from the Orbiter); why they were missing from the public domain?

ISRO Chairman K Sivan had said on 21 September that the Chandrayaan-2 mission had achieved 98 per cent of its objectives. He also said it has to be established what happened to Lander.

Earlier on 19 September, an ISRO press release stated that Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter payloads were functioning satisfactorily, while a national committee of academicians and ISRO experts had been formed to study the cause of Vikram Lander’s failure.

Till now, ISRO has not offered any proof to show whether the lander had a hard landing and was in a tilted position, as claimed and widely reported earlier or there was a crash-landing.

In the early hours of 7 September 2019, everyone, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present at the ISRO control facility in Bangalore, and the commoners who were glued to their television sets to watch live the softlanding of Lander Vikram on Moon were totally dejected when instead of real navigation data, there was only simulated descent trajectory visible on a big screen at the ISRO control facility and suddenly there was a freeze frame and it was announced that all contact with Lander had been lost.

The next day, ISRO went public with the statement that it was not soft but a hard landing and the Lander had been located. ISRO further said that efforts were on to restore communication with it.

NASA photo indicating debris and soil disturbance

After that there was a prolonged lull till one day NASA surfaced on the scene and released pictures to show that Vikram Lander had crashed on the Moon surface. On 3 December, the official NASA website carried a piece with the title “Vikram Lander Found“. Photo showing the impact point and associated debris field identified by Shanmuga Subramanian, a Chennai based techy, were released by NASA to drive home the point. ISRO countered this by saying that they were the first to announce that the Lander had been located.

Why hasn’t NASA released the Vikram Lander Flybys yet

Pointing to the controversy and mystery surrounding the Lander, a 4-day old Reddit post with the above heading says: “Isn’t it strange that NASA has not yet released the 14, 15 October and 11 November flybys of Vikram Lander debris? Going by their posts, it obviously was processed and even given product id. The LROC Image Search doesn’t show EDR nor CDR.”

The trailing comments on the same post also cannot be swept aside. A Redditor goes on to observe that there is no update on Vikram from ISRO and when asked about it the ISRO Chairman said: “We have spotted lander first before NASA , we have stated this on our website …” The Redditor rounds up his comment by stating: “I have given up hopes to see any report on Vikram now. Also they just shared some couple of images from Orbiter for the sake of public consolation….”

Another Redditor even has questioned the ISRO Chairman’s leadership by holding him responsible for delaying the mission and making ISRO a secretive organization. “What kind of science organization is this where you don’t even publish a scientific data. Just see how NASA, ROSCOSMOS, JAXA are open on social media. Here our Mars Orbiter, Astrosat, Chandrayaan2 have become a luxury of pride…”, he goes on to add

On a closer look, it appears, ISRO is hiding more than what it is revealing. People have the right to know what details ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC, Bengaluru) is sitting on with regard to the Chandrayaan-2 Mission and Lander Vikram, especially data regarding its separation from the Orbiter. People also have the right to know what has been the outcome of the experts committee that was set up to probe what happened to Lander.

The minimum ISRO can do at this stage for the sake of its credibility and image is to put in public domain all the evidence it has to prove that it had located the lander. Even NASA can play an important role in this regard by releasing the Flybys of Vikram Lander as evidence to establish the exact fate of Lander Vikram.

Iran talks of new power equation to combat warmongering

Newsroom24x7 Network

Moscow: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has drawn world attention to a new power equation by stating here on Monday that contrary to US, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia are determined to maintain peace and stability in the region.

Referring to Iran-Russia-China joint military drills, Zarif said it indicates the significant role and efforts of all parties in establishing peace in the region. On December 27, Iran, Russia and China started staging a four-day trilateral naval exercise in the north Indian Ocean and Sea of Oman to share experiences in fight against terrorism and piracy.

IRNA (Islamic Republic New Agency) reports, Zarif made the remarks in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Zarif arrived in Moscow late on Sunday to hold talks with top Russian officials including his counterpart Sergei Lavrov on wide range of issues.

Zarif said the relation between Iran and Russia is in its best historic situation and Iranian officials are determined to consider Russia as a big and important neighboring state acting as a great international power, he said.

“In contrast to those who promote warmongering in the region, Iran and Russia have presented initiatives which are similar to each other aiming to maintain peace in the region”, Zarif said.

IRNA further reports: Referring to US recent attack on Iraqi forces, Zarif said this was just one example of US behavior.

The Iranian foreign minister described Iran-Russia cooperation in Astana format as a successful example of joint cooperation for bringing back peace to Syria. He also expressed the hope for dialogue on regional and international issues linked to Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and went on to underscore that Russia follows peace initiative while Iran pursues Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE) initiative.

It may be recalled, the Iranian president had presented the Hormuz Peace Endeavor HOPE initiative at the 74th UNGA session on 25 September 2019, calling for collective cooperation of the Persian Gulf coastal states to safeguard peace in the Persian Gulf, Sea of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz.

After that, the Iranian government had sent letters to the southern Arab states in the Persian Gulf to seize the opportunity to reduce tensions with Iran and provide free maritime navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.

The move shows how serious Iran is in ending differences with its neighbors, Zarif said, adding the presence of the US and its allies in the Middle East is the main source of tensions there like the events that are taking place in Iraq and Lebanon these days.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday that Javad Zarif will leave Moscow for Beijing in the second leg of his regional tour. In China, he will discuss bilateral issues including the July 2015 nuclear deal.

2019 Forest assessment shows decrease in forest cover in tribal districts

Total Forest and Tree Cover rises to 24.56 percent of the total geographical area of the Country

Newsroom24x7 Network

The current assessment of forest cover (India State of Forest Report 2019) shows an increase of 3,976 sq km (0.56%) of forest cover, 1,212 sq km (1.29%) of tree cover and 5,188 sq km (0.65%) of forest and tree cover put together, at the national level as compared to the previous assessment i.e. ISFR 2017.

The top five States in terms of increase in forest cover are Karnataka (1,025 sq km), Andhra Pradesh (990 sq km), Kerala (823 sq km), Jammu & Kashmir (371 sq km) and Himachal Pradesh (334 sq km).

Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar on Monday, 30 December, released the biennial “India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2019”. The report is published by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) which has been mandated to assess the forest and tree resources of the country including wall-to-wall forest cover mapping in a biennial cycle. Starting 1987, 16 assessment have been completed so far. ISFR 2019 is the 16th report in the series.

Total forest cover in India is 21.67 per cent of the geographical area. Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra.

The total forest cover in the tribal districts is 4,22,351 sq km, which is 37.54% of the geographical area of these districts. What is alarming is that the current assessment shows a decrease of 741 sq km of forest cover within the RFA/GW (recorded forest area or green wash) in the tribal districts but at the same time it is also encouraging to note that there has been an increase of 1,922 sq km outside.

It has been assessed that the annual removal of the small timber by the people living in forest fringe villages is nearly 7% of the average annual yield of forests in the country.

Total forest cover in the North Eastern region is 1,70,541 sq km, which is 65.05% of its geographical area. The current assessment shows a decrease of forest cover to the extent of 765 sq km (0.45%) in the region. Except Assam and Tripura, all the States in the region show decrease in forest cover.

The total growing stock of wood in the country is estimated 5,915.76 million cum comprising 4,273.47 million cum inside forest areas and 1,642.29 million cum outside recorded forest areas (TOF). The average growing stock per hectare in forest has been estimated as 55.69 cum.

There are 62,466 wetlands covering 3.83% of the area within the RFA/GW of the country. The total number of wetlands located within the RFA/GW is 8.13%. Amongst the States, Gujarat has largest area of wetlands within RFA in the country followed by West Bengal.

Dependence of fuelwood on forests is highest in the State of Maharashtra, whereas, for fodder, small timber and bamboo, dependence is highest in Madhya Pradesh.

The quantity of removal of fodder, in terms of total removal, is estimated highest for Madhya Pradesh followed by Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The total removal of small timber is estimated highest for Madhya Pradesh followed by Gujarat and Maharashtra. removal of small timber largely takes place from the forests close to the villages.

The total removal of bamboo from forest, by the people living in FFVs is estimated highest for Madhya Pradesh followed by Chhattisgarh and Gujarat.

Fire prone forest areas of different severity classes have been mapped based on the frequency of forest fires. The analysis reveals that 21.40% of the forest cover of the country is highly to extremely fire prone.

An analysis of fire prone forest areas was carried out by FSI and the results were published in the Technical Information Series (Vol I, No I)3 report in January, 2019. Findings of the study indicate that nearly 4% of the country’s forest cover is extremely prone to fire, whereas 6% of forest cover is found to be very highly fire prone. More than 36% of the country’s forest cover has been estimated prone to frequent forest fires.

US airstrikes against Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria

Newsroom24x7 Network

Washington DC/Tehran/Moscow: In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces, U.S. forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria to meet the objective of degrading KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces.

This was stated by Assistant to the US Secretary of Defense Jonathan Hoffman after Sunday’s attack on Iran backed militia controlled area in Iraq and Syria.

The five targets include three KH locations in Iraq and two in Syria. These locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that KH uses to plan and execute attacks on OIR coalition forces.

According to reports, at least 25 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in the airstrikes against the Kataib Hezbollah controlled territory in Iraq and Syria on Sunday.

Recent KH strikes included a 30-plus rocket attack on an Iraqi base near Kirkuk that resulted in the death of a U.S. citizen and injured four U.S. service members and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

US Defense Department has said that KH has a strong linkage with Iran’s Quds Force and has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack OIR coalition forces.

The US has further stated that OIR coalition is in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS and provide advice and assistance to the ISF. It has been reiterated that the U.S. and its coalition partners fully respect Iraqi sovereignty, and support a strong and independent Iraq. The U.S., however, will not be deterred from exercising its right of self-defense.

What has also been underscored is that it is important to note that KH attacks have also injured multiple members of the ISF. The US Secretary Secretary of Defense Mark T Esper and Iraqui Prime Minister Mahdi have shared with each other their commitment to see these KH attacks on ISF and OIR forces cease once and for all.

The US in a terse message has said that Iran and their KH proxy forces must cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, and respect Iraq’s sovereignty, to prevent additional defensive actions by U.S. forces.

Iran issues warning

After the airstrikes against the Iran-backed militia group, Iran has warned the US of “consequences”.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi slammed US aggression on Iraqi soil and on Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd al-Shabi) as clear example of terrorism. Hash al-Shabi mobilization forces played major role in fighting ISIS on the ground.

Mousavi urged the US to respect independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq and to stop intervention in the internal affairs of the country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Meanwhile on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that contrary to US, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia are determined to maintain peace and stability in the region and the relevant road map offered by both states proves this fact. He made this remark in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, reports IRNA, the Islamic Republic News Agency