India SciTech

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.

4 comments

  1. You have pointed out in your lead para that the department of space press statement is silent about lander vikram and Rover while stating that the GSLV MK III M 1 had carried chadrayan 2 orbiter spacecraft to its intended orbit on 22 July 2019 does it mean vikram lander was not launched at all

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  2. Is it a tacit admission by ISRO that there was no lander at all. If it is so, does it mean the country was taken for a ride? Then what did all the country see glued to their TV sets? Was it a fake landing? ISRO should come clean. Otherwise, ISRO will become a pariah in international scientific community for attempted peddling of a great lie. Scandalous. Unbelievable.

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