Chandrayaan-2, Moon Lander, ISRO, NASA and the amateur techy

Lalit Shastri

After NASA released pictures, on Tuesday, 3 December 2019, to show the Vikram Lander had crashed on the Moon surface, the impact point and associated debris field identified by Shanmuga Subramanian, a Chennai based techy, Indian Speace Research organisation Chairman K Sivan has gone on record stating that ISRO had located Vikram much earlier.

Sivan has said: “Our own orbiter had located Vikram lander. We had already declared that on our website, you can go back and see.”

On Sep 10, 2019, ISRO had announced:

“Vikram lander has been located by the orbiter of Chandrayaan-2, but no communication with it yet. All possible efforts are being made to establish communication with lander.”

Earlier on 7 September, ISRO had published the following status report on its website:

“While orbiting the moon in a 100 km lunar polar orbit, on September 02, 2019, Vikram Lander was separated from the Orbiter in preparation for landing. Subsequently, two de-orbit maneuvers were performed on Vikram Lander so as to change its orbit and begin circling the moon in a 100 km x 35 km orbit. Vikram Lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently communication from lander to the ground stations was lost.”

Immediately thereafter, large section of the mainstream media, including TV news channels, had started relaying the news that Lander Vikram had been located and due to a hard landing, it was in a tilted position.

To cite an example, on 9 September, Economic Times published a news item with the heading “Hard landing derailed lunar mission, says K Sivan”. It said that ISRO chief Sivan had confirmed on 8 September that Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander had been located. The report further said that the cameras onboard the orbiter have taken images of the lander on the moon’s surface. Isro is still unable to communicate with the lander that had a hard landing after a free fall from a height of 2.1 km.

Later on September 19, 2019, ISRO announced that a National level committee consisting of academicians and ISRO experts was analyzing the cause of communication loss with lander.

Coming to the crux of the matter and keeping in focus the NASA disclosure on Tuesday, 3 December, followed by ISRO Chairman’s assertion the next day that ISRO was the first to locate Lander Vikram, it is high-time, the ISRO chief answers just one question – Where is the evidence that formed the basis of the ISRO claim that Vikram lander had been located by the orbiter. In order to validate this claim, ISRO will have to put into the public domain crucial videos showing lander separation or undocking from the orbiter. One fails to understand why this video is missing from the ISRO website.

Chandrayaan-2 mission comprised an Orbiter, Lander and Rover to explore the unexplored South Pole of the Moon. The mission had been designed to expand the lunar scientific knowledge through detailed study of topography, seismography, mineral identification and distribution, surface chemical composition, thermo-physical characteristics of top soil and composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere, leading to a new understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon.

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