Tag Archives: Lander Vikram

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.

ISRO: Time for Change of leadership

Lalit Shastri

We have a situation where a top post was degraded and instead of a senior officer at the Additional Secretary level holding fort as Financial Advisor in DoS and ISRO, an officer at the Joint Secretary level was posted there. It is learnt that even the present Joint Secretary and FA, Anoop Shrivastava, an Indian Defence Accounts Service officer, has sought and got premature repatriation as he was unable to work with the present ISRO leadership.

ISRO has been in news and in sharp focus in recent months, especially due to the failure of Lander Vikram to softland on the lunar surface on 7 September this year.

If ISRO had succeeded in achieving this goal, India would have become the fourth country to make a soft landing on the Moon’s surface.

Notwithstanding the end result, what is most unfortunate is that ISRO has become a target of criticism and ridicule more due to the ISRO chairman’s controversial remarks and the public stance of ISRO on the fate of Lander Vikram.

ISRO was quick in going public and telling the world that there was a hard landing, the Lander had been located and efforts were on to rebuild contact with it

There was total gloom at the ISRO control facility in the early hours of 7 September, when in the presence of the Prime Minister, people glued to their TV sets had watched with bated breath how the Lander trajectory graphically represented on a big screen suddenly went tangent from its linear course and came to a halt moments before the scheduled touchdown. Few hours down the line (8 September), K Sivan, the ISRO Chairman had said that the Vikram lander was located by Chandrayaan-2 and efforts were being made to restore contact.

After some gap of time, it was revealed by NASA, on the basis of the “findings of a Chennai based techy”, that the Moon Lander had crashed and broken up into pieces. This was followed up by ISRO telling the world that there was nothing new in what NASA was highlighting since they had much earlier located the Lander. Question that remains to be answered by ISRO is where ‘s the proof for what they have been claiming. Why no photographs or a video of the Lander’s undocking from the Lunar Orbiter have been made public till now.

Only an objective probe will find answers to the questions regarding Chandrayaan-2 and what led to the Lander’s failure.

There are also many lapses that should make the citizens of India, who fund ISRO’s working, sit up straight. In April 2018 there was an innocuous notice published on the ISRO/Department of Space Website. The notice referred to an application dated 1 July 2016 filed by one Jupiter Satellite India Limited for securing an Indian orbital slot at 104 degrees East longitude to provide Ka-band services for broadband beams covering the Indian mainland and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The notice was put out by CAISS, the Committee for Administration of the Indian Satellite System. To the uninitiated, the notice made no sense but on delving deep, Newsroom24x7 came to the obvious conclusion that it was the making of another Antrix-Devas.

Process is on to offer Ka-band services without auction: Is it a backdoor deal?

Responding to a specific query in 2018, ISRO had replied that it had only the post of Secretary while other Apex scale posts were approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet “as and when required”. The organization ducked the question conveniently as to whether the posts are sanctioned or not. Usually up to the level of Joint Secretary, the power to create posts vests in the Finance Minister. Above that it is the Union Cabinet that decides. In the Merit Promotion scheme practiced by Department of Space, and Department of Atomic Energy, there is a cap at the level of Director or at the Jt Secretary level. But beyond that, successive Chairmen have created and operated posts with impunity. In fact in every proposal sent by the Department of Space to the DoPT in this regard, on the basis of peer review done by secretary Atomic Energy and Chairman ISRO, the first line has always conveyed the lie that the Department of Space has “two sanctioned Posts in the Apex Scale”. Its at the whims of these top functionaries that the apex scale is awarded to a scientist they wish to see as the next ISRO chairman and in the process, often due to personal biases the meritorious are left out.

Decline of ISRO

Giving a go-bye to quality assurance, to increase launch frequency appears to be the main reason why Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) GSAT-6A mission ended in failure. According to ISRO insiders, the duration of pre-shipment checks was being cut short only to increase launch frequency as every chairman was after glory. ISRO is collectively guilty and the top man more so.

Two days after India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-F08) launched GSAT-6A Satellite into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) on 29 March 2018, the authorities confirmed they had lost contact with the powerful communications satellite designed to improve communication for Defence forces.

Losing contact with GSAT-6A puts ISRO authorities in dock

The successful launching of a series of satellites in India’s ambitious navigation satellites system (NavIC) by ISRO notwithstanding, those running and administering India’s space programme owe an explanation to the nation and they will have to tell the people of this country why there has been so much delay in making the desi GPS a reality.

Between 2009 and 2019 India has spent over Rs. 4000 crore on a series of navigation satellites (NavIC). One failed and a replacement had a launch failure. These satellites have a short life span. The much touted desi GPS has nothing on the ground – neither in terms of civil or military applications and use. The crux of the problem is that ISRO went full steam ahead and started launching the satellites in the Indian navigation system in quick succession, without bothering to ensure the chipsets required for ground support also developed simultaneously to roll out the services that could be availed on mobile handsets just like the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) are fully operational GNSSs, with China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) and the European Union’s Galileo. This is more merely a lapse but has led to criminal waste of public money. Those responsible will have to be identified and held accountable.

Desi GPS: Space Application Centre lacks priority at great cost to the nation

The Chairman ISRO is also Secretary Department of Space. The main objective of DoS is to harness space technology for national development, while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration. Its Mission is to Design and develop launch vehicles and related technologies for providing access to space; design and develop satellites and related technologies for earth observation, communication, navigation, meteorology and space science; run the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) programme for meeting telecommunication, television broadcasting and developmental applications; spearhead the Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) programme for management of natural resources and monitoring of environment using space based imagery; provide Space based Applications for Societal development; and carry forward Research and Development in space science and planetary exploration.

The lofty goals notwithstanding, we have a situation where a top post was degraded and instead of a senior officer at the Additional Secretary level holding fort as Financial Advisor in DoS and ISRO, an officer at the Joint Secretary level was posted there. It is learnt that even the present Joint Secretary and FA (27 November 2017 onward), Anoop Srivastava, an Indian Defence Accounts Service officer, has sought and got premature repatriation as he was unable to work with the present ISRO leadership.

Postscript: There is simmering discontent in ISRO. The Prime Minister must intervene to stem the rot and prevent a world class organisation from declining.

Eminent space scientist finds images of Chandrayaan-2 crash landing site released by NASA as “very interesting”

Newsroom24x7 Networking

Eminent space Scientist Tapan Misra, who is presently posted as Advisor at the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru, views the LRO images of Chandrayaan-2 crash landing site released by NASA as “very interesting”. These have changed many conventional ideas, he had in mind, Misra points out in a facebook post.

According to Misra, the lander with partially burnt fuel must have had a mass of 700-800 kg, similar to that of a sedan car or a small aircraft. And as per ISRO data, it was travelling at a speed of 534 km per hour, speed of a jet aircraft. With this impact like jet crash on lunar regolith, a very fine dust of 0.5 m to 5-6 m thick covering of lunar surface, would have created a great upheaval at the first impact site, spreading around 10 m or more across. Almost like a small crater or dent. In fact the dust or debris could jump up much more than on earth, as lunar gravity is one-sixth of earth. But surprisingly not a single change in dent one can see, except local brightness variation.

Also he expected, the unspent fuel would have got split on lunar surface and must have burnt a while as both fuel and oxidizer were present. This could have left a dark patch on lunar surface. But nothing like this is seen.

Also he expected some debris to be left behind at the first impact site. But he could see none.

Another interesting phenomenon Misra has observed – all the debris tended to get strewn, dominantly along a linear patch. He expected them to be strewn all around, considering randomness in rebounding of broken pieces after the first crash. During first impact at high speed, lander would have got compressed and broken. The stored energy because of compression would have got released next, by throwing away the broken pieces of lander in different arbitrary directions.

Further all spacecraft components and structure elements were black painted. But it appears all the debris identified, are shiny. He thought they should appear dark.

Save ISRO: Nation cannot remain mute spectator

Lalit Shastri

Indian Space research Organisation, popularly known as ISRO, continues to be in news for some time now, especially due to the ambitious Chandrayaan-2 Mission.

The main objectives of the Chandrayaan-2 Vikram Lander were to demonstrate the ability to soft-land on the lunar surface and operate a robotic rover on the Moon surface to explore the “unexplored South Pole of the Moon”. The primary purpose of this mission, according to ISRO” was 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”.

Unfortunately moments before landing on 7 September 2019, all signals from the Lander had stopped and till now there is no trace of the Vikram Lander.

During the moment of failure, when gloom had descended at the Control facility at the ISRO headquarters, K Sivan, the ISRO Chairman, had wept and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had consoled him while stating that failure should not disappoint as the road to success, when it comes to scientific advancement, is marked by failure and the human ability and determination helps in charting the course of success.

Notwithstanding the words of encouragement from the Prime Minister when ISRO had failed completely in meeting the principal objective of Chandrayaan-2 Mission, the ISRO chief lost no time and went about telling the media that the Mission was 98% successful.

98% success gimmick

Prior to the Lander’s scheduled “soft landing on Moon”, Sivan also tried to build up his image using his media managers to project himself as a poor farmer’s son. But this gambit failed as many poor farmer’s sons and daughters in ISRO started giving interviews. He was so sure of success that he built up a crescendo. When things failed he lied to the nation and the Prime Minister that lander was intact and only communication had been lost. Whereas, ISRO insiders have revealed that actually the Lander had hit the lunar surface at the speed of jet aircraft and probably broken into small pieces beyond recognition. In this backdrop, Sivan had tried to claim that Lander had a hard landing and it had also been imaged and was intact. Though he never released a photograph. When NASA images started raising doubts regarding his claims, he started playing the 98% success gimmick. When he was caught pants down with his empty claim, he started posing as a simple scientist who flies in Indigo in cattle class, not in business class. It is to be noted that Indigo domestic flights have no business class. In reality, he insists on flying in business class whenever business class is available, including during foreign trips, which he never misses.

There is sharp resentment against Sivan’s working as ISRO chief. It is being said that he just cannot tolerate bright colleagues and that he has destroyed the work culture of ISRO by demolishing the middle level leadership. It has been revealed that he almost transferred around 100 engineers in the name of reorganising ISRO HQ. He has been charged of replacing capable leadership with his henchmen who will do his bidding. He has appointed 4 directors of IPRC, LPSC, IISU and SDSC with the paramount qualification – they belong to the same community to which he belongs.

In his quest for usurping all the credit of Chandrayan-2 and perhaps also to grab the Padma award, he had delayed the Chandrayaan-2 programme by two years though all the elements were ready in early 2017. The delay was to ensure the two main architects – Mylswamy Annadurai, who is called the Moon Man due to the success of Chandrayaan 1 in 2008, was retired and the director Space Application Centre was thrown out and given an innocuous posting.

Sivan saw to it that Annadurai was not given an extension of tenure though he had extended tenures of many less qualified persons like Diwakar and Nageswar Rao. He even instructed his colleagues not to attend Annadurai’s farewell. Even Sivan himself did not bother to attend it nor did he invite Annadurai to witness Lander’s landing on Moon on 7 September 2019.

In order to justify the delay, the cryogenic engine earmarked for Chandrayaan-2 was burnt down by 30 % overdrive against specification of 10%; its weight was unnecessarly increased to justify change of launcher from GSLV Mk II to Mk III; the configuration of Chandrayaan-2 Lander was changed from 4 thrusters to 5 thrusters, which finally led to its failure.

There was a feeling among ISRO leadership that Modi will lose 2019 election and in place a new government will come. So in place of giving credit of Chandrayaan-2 to an “outgoing PM”, they wanted to gift Chandrayaan-2 to the new Government and a new PM. So they made all excuses to delay the launch beyond election. They thought they will placate the new Government and get mercy in criminal cases. But unfortunately, for these people Narendra Modi became the PM again. Now there was a rush to placate Modi but unfortunately the Lander became a failure.

Inquiries have revealed that Sivan had tried to stall indigenous High Throughput Satellite HTS GSAT 11, a brain child of the Director, Space Application Centre . The aim of recalling GSAT 11 from launch pad in Kourou in French Guiana was to get it destroyed and bringing in Hughes make Jupiter HTS in the same slot at a huge cost and huge national security risk. As the Director SAC had opposed the recalling of GSAT 11 from French Guiana without any valid technical reason, he was removed from post of Director, SAC and was replaced by DK Das.

As no fault could be found, to save face Sivan was forced to launch GSAT 11 by Dec 2018 by Arianespace. But it extracted a huge price by forcing ISRO to launch two satellites, GSAT 31 and 32 at a cost of Rs. 950 crore. If they were launched by GSLV, the cost would have been Rs. 400 crore.

ISRO insiders point out that Sivan was installed by DEVAS lobby or gang (as they call it). It comprised of MG Chandrashekhar of DEVAS (MGC), and former Chairmen of ISRO Kasturi Rangan, who is also called the Godfather of MGC, and Kiran kumar (MGC’s nephew). It is alleged that the Devas lobby saw to it that ISRO loses the Antrix-DEVAS case by putting forward a weak defense and employing lawyers not capable of the task. The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) tribunal at The Hague in 2016 had found that the action of “annulling a contract between Devas and Antrix and denying Devas commercial use of S-band spectrum constituted an expropriation” by the Government of India was illegal. the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration (ICA) had earlier ruled against Antrix, for “unlawfully terminating” Devas-Antrix agreement in 2011, and had directed Antrix to pay $672 million plus an annual interest at 18 per cent post award.

This looks like a neat swindle game by successive chairmen of ISRO. In this swindle Sivan played master role. He even tried to take control of DEVAS papers from ANTRIX by unsuccessfully trying to dislodge its CMD and closing down ANTRIX.

A set of criminal investigations of grave defalcation and criminal actions also are going on in ISRO . These are apart from the DEVAS case.

Sivan is known in ISRO circles as “Kejriwal of ISRO”. He gained promotions riding on other shoulders and then junking them as he climbed the ladders of promotion. He was project director of only one GSLV mission which exploded over SHAR on 24 Dec 2010. People say, he fails wherever he is involved.

Postscript: Sivan could have called Annadurai for review when Chandrayaan-2 Lander failed.

Regarding the Antrix-Devas case, it should be noted that MG Chandrasekhar attended former Director U R Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) Sivakumar’s funeral on 13 April this year where he met Sivan, Kiran Kumar and others. This was not reported to the Government or the CBI. He has been evading CBI and ED summons but even a simple look out notice has not been issued. He keeps travelling in and out of India from the USA. Sivan also is in direct regular contact with Madhavan Nair and is manauvering for out of court settlement in the Devas-Antrix case.


The author, Lalit Shastri, is Editor-in-Chief Newsroom24x7.com