India’s first lunar landing attempt ends in silence

India’s attempt to be the fourth nation to land on the Moon has ended in silence. On September 7, 2019 at 1:54 am IST (September 6, 20:24 GMT), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lost contact with its Vikram lunar lander as it descended to an altitude of about 2 km (1.2 mi) of the lunar surface, though whether it crashed or landed on the Moon remains uncertain.

Though the fate of Vikram lander is currently still unknown and ISRO seems to regard the spacecraft as lost, the space agency also sees the landing as 90 to 95 percent successful. It was a key part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, India’s second lunar orbiter, and its first landing attempt, which launched at 2:43 pm IST on July 22 (July 21, 21:13 GMT) atop a GSLV MkIII-M1 rocket from the Second Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, India. After launch, the Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter and Vikram made a series of orbital maneuvers over the course of several weeks that put it into a translunar trajectory ending in a circular orbit around the Moon on September 7 at an altitude of 35 km (22 mi).

On Saturday, Vikram undocked from the Orbiter and used its variable braking rockets to descend to an intended soft landing between the craters Manzinus C and Simpelius N at 70° S latitude near the lunar south pole.

According to ISRO, the lander operated as designed and telemetry showed no problems with its systems before the sudden loss of radio contact with mission control. Meanwhile, the Orbiter is reported to be in good health and is expected to fulfill its mission of up to seven years studying the Moon’s evolution as well as mapping minerals and water traces in the polar regions.