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  1. NASA spacecraft finds crash site of Indian lunar lander Vikram’s final resting place A NASA spacecraft in orbit around the Moon spotted the crash site of India’s ill-fated lunar lander, Vikram, which slammed into the Moon’s surface during a landing attempt in September. Images taken by the spacecraft confirm that the lander met an explosive end, revealing the lander’s impact site and the surrounding debris created by the accident. Part of India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon, Vikram was supposed to be the first Indian spacecraft to touch down gently on the lunar surface. India had put a vehicle on the Moon before, but that spacecraft purposefully slammed into the ground, kicking up lunar dirt and allowing researchers to learn more about the kinds of materials lurking on the Moon. With Vikram, India hoped to put a spacecraft intact on the Moon, to study the lunar environment in more detail. Vikram was even carrying a rover that was supposed to travel up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) and learn more about the composition of the surface. But during Vikram’s scheduled landing on September 6th, officials with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lost contact with the vehicle when it was about 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) above the lunar surface. It was unclear exactly what happened to the lander for a while. In the days following the landing, some ISRO officials claimed they had found the spacecraft on the lunar surface and were still trying to establish contact with it. But just last week, ISRO admitted that Vikram had a “hard” landing, after the vehicle had trouble braking during its descent to the surface. Now, researchers have provided visual confirmation of this hard impact, thanks to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the Moon since 2009. A team of scientists operating the camera on the orbiter first took pictures of the landing site on September 17th and released them to the public. They received a tip of possible debris in the pictures, and confirmed that it came from Vikram. However, the place where Vikram hit wasn’t well lit, so the team took images of the site again in October and November to get a better look. Ultimately, they found the spot and captured a more detailed image of the site and debris field. While these images provide some closure with Vikram, India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission isn’t a total loss. The Vikram lander traveled to the Moon along with another spacecraft — one designed to study the lunar surface from above. That vehicle successfully entered the Moon’s orbit in August and is still circling overhead, gathering data about the Moon and decoding what’s on the surface below. Source: NASA spacecraft finds crash site of Indian lunar lander (The Verge)
  2. India Loses Contact with Vikram Lander During Historic Moon Landing Attempt India lost contact with its Vikram lunar lander Friday (Sept. 6) during a daring attempt to make history as the first country to land near the south pole. The landing anomaly may have dashed Indian dreams of becoming just the fourth country to successfully soft-land a spacecraft on the moon. Long, tense minutes stretched out inside the mission control center for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which designed the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had arrived onsite at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, about half an hour before touchdown of the landed component, dubbed Vikram, was scheduled to take place. That announcement came at 4:48 p.m. EDT (2048 GMT) from K. Sivan, the director of ISRO. "Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 kilometers [1.3 miles]," Sivan said in an announcement at mission control. "Subsequently the communications from the lander to the ground station was lost. The data is being analyzed." Data comparing the planned trajectory of the Vikram lander with telemetry from the spacecraft. (Image credit: ISRO) Modi spoke after Sivan's announcement, appearing to bolster downcast spirits in mission control as they investigated the issue. "Be courageous," he said. "What we achieved is not small," Modi added. "Wish you all the best." Sivan did not specify when ISRO would be able to provide updates about the fate of the Vikram lander. According to data shown during the descent maneuver, the lowest altitude reported back to Earth was 0.2 miles (0.33 kilometers) above the lunar surface. A plot comparing live data received to the mission's trajectory suggested that Vikram was about 0.6 miles (1 km) horizontally off-track from the targeted landing site when communications stopped. "India is proud of our scientists!" Modi wrote in a Twitter update shortly after learning of the anomaly. "They've given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!" "We remain hopeful and will continue working hard on our space programme," he added. Chandrayaan-2 consisted of three components — an orbiter, a lander named Vikram and a rover named Pragyan — which together launched to the moon on July 22 atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk III) rocket. It took nearly 7 weeks to arrive at its destination; Chandrayaan-2 arrived in lunar orbit on Aug. 20, and the lander separated from the orbiter on Sept. 2 to begin its descent to the lunar surface. The lander and the rover were designed to spend one lunar day — about 14 Earth days — investigating the lunar surface with a variety of scientific instruments. Both were expected to shutdown come nightfall at the moon's south pole, because they weren't built to withstand to frigid temperatures of the lunar night. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with ISRO director K. Sivan after the agency lost communications with the Vikram lander. (Image credit: ISRO) Despite the demise of the Pragyan lunar rover and Vikram lander, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will continue studying the moon from afar for about a year. From its vantage point at an altitude of about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the moon's surface, the orbiter uses eight scientific instruments and cameras to study Earth's natural satellite from afar. The following are among the payloads: An X-ray spectrometer to measure the abundance of different elements on the moon. A solar X-ray Monitor, which studies high-energy radiation from the sun. A dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar to map the lunar surface. The Chandrayaan-2 Atmospheric Compositional Explorer 2 (CHACE 2), which studies the composition of the moon's exosphere, or ultrathin atmosphere. A radio science experiment that will study electrons in the moon's ionosphere. Today's possible failure may mark the second time ISRO has crash-landed a spacecraft on the moon. The country's first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008 and consisted of only an orbiter, which successfully conducted vital research at the moon, and an impactor. Chadrayaan-1 operated for about 10 months. Chandrayaan-2 bears some similarities to Chandrayaan-1, but it carried new and improved technologies that ISRO is testing for future planetary missions — like its next mission to Mars. India had announced tentative plans to launch a third moon mission called Chandrayaan-3 in 2024. Like Chandrayaan-2, that mission would include a lunar rover. India was striving to become the fourth country to soft-land on the lunar surface, after the United States, Russia and China. The fatal crash of the Vikram lander comes just months after Israel's first moon mission, Beresheet, met a similar fate. But unlike Beresheet, Chandrayaan-2's mission lives on in the orbiter that will circle the moon, alone two weeks before its time. Source: India Loses Contact with Vikram Lander During Historic Moon Landing Attempt
  3. India's Chandrayaan-2 Moon Orbiter Releases Vikram Lunar Lander On Sept. 2, the Indian Space Research Organisation's Chandrayaan-2 moon orbiter successfully released its Vikram lander in lunar orbit as seen in this illustrated depiction. (Image: © India Space Research Organisation) The two halves of India's moon mission have parted ways in preparation for the tensest moment of the entire endeavor. Today (Sept. 2), the Chandrayaan-2 mission split into two separate spacecraft: an orbiter that will circle the moon's poles for about a year and a lander that will, later this week, attempt India's first touchdown on the moon. "All the systems of Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter and Lander are healthy," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) officials said in a statement. The separation occurred around 3:45 a.m. EDT (745 GMT). So far, both spacecraft are faring well in their separate orbits, ISRO officials added. The Chandrayaan-2 mission launched in July, taking the slow road to the moon, where it arrived in orbit on Aug. 20. Since then, mission control staff at ISRO conducted a series of orbital adjustments to put the spacecraft on track for the south-pole-oriented mission. The orbiter component of the mission builds directly on the legacy of India's first moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, which carried the instrument that identified water ice buried in dark craters near the lunar south pole. The spacecraft carries eight different science instruments onboard, including two cameras, devices to identify different elements in the moon's regolith and to calculate the amount of water ice with it, and an instrument that will measure X-rays emitted by the sun. The Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, with the rover Pragyan on its ramp, as seen before the spacecraft's July 2019 launch. (Image credit: ISRO) Now, the lander component is on its own, with several days on its schedule to orbit the moon, endure a series of health checks and fine-tune its position for landing. That dramatic moment will come on Sept. 6 at about 4:25 p.m. EDT (2025 GMT) at the end of a 15-minute powered-descent phase, according to Spaceflight Now. The mission's landing zone is on a plateau between two craters and is farther south than any moon landing site to date — a key requirement for the landed component to follow up on Chandrayaan-1's icy discovery. The landing will occur early in the lunar day in order to maximize the data that can be gathered before the harsh lunar night freezes the spacecraft out of operation. The lander, called Vikram, carries three experiments: one to study the moon's ionosphere, one to study temperature within the top 4 inches (10 centimeters) of the lunar surface and one to study moonquakes. The lander also carries a laser retroreflector that scientists will use to precisely measure the distance from Earth to this patch of the moon, even long after the lander runs out of energy. Vikram also carries a rover, dubbed Pragyan, that weighs about 60 lbs. (27 kilograms). The rover is scheduled to leave its berth on the lander about 4 hours after arrival on the lunar surface. Pragyan carries two instruments that will help the rover identify elements near the mission's landing site. If the landing is successful, the maneuver will mark India's first soft landing on the moon, making it the fourth country to accomplish that feat, after the Soviet Union, the U.S. and China. Source: India's Chandrayaan-2 Moon Orbiter Releases Vikram Lunar Lander
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