NASA can’t detect India’s Moon Lander on Lunar surface

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Ever since the Indian moon-exploring spacecraft crashed, scientists have faced problems finding the lunar lander on the Lunar surface. Two weeks ago,the Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander went silent when it was about to land, disabling the possibility for further communication with Earth. Even NASA got involved, but it couldn’t spot India’s crashed Moon lander with its moon-orbiting spacecraft.

Last week, Spaceflight Now reported that NASA would use its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to locate India’s Vikram lander that crashed on the moon during landing. According to the same report, Indian space officials said that they found the spacecraft that crashed using the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter, although they refused to release images as evidence.

NASA has previously used the LRO and its high-resolution camera to take images across the moon, including the Apollo landing sites. The images were clear enough to show the astronaut’s footprints left during the ground-breaking, memorable lunar mission. Noah Petro, LRO’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said, as per the report, that the orbiter would fly over the Vikram landing site on Sept. 17.

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“Per NASA policy, all LRO data are publicly available,” Petro told Spaceflight Now. “NASA will share any before and after flyover imagery of the area around the targeted Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander landing site to support analysis by the Indian Space Research Organization.”

According to the India Space Research Organization (ISRO) statement on Twitter, the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter, which launched together with India’s crashed moon lander, detected it on the lunar surface.

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

However, despite NASA using the LRO camera to detect the crashed lander, its efforts were unsuccessful, as the LRO didn’t detect it, thus failing to provide additional information about what happened to cause the lander to crash while landing. This opposes the official statement in which ISRO said that the orbiter spotted a crashed lander. Nevertheless, the images were not made public. Moreover, it’s unlikely that the camera on Chandrayaan-2 could determine in what condition the spacecraft is in.

Although the LRO couldn’t detect the site of the crash or gather the information about why it crashed, it doesn’t mean that the crashed Vikram lander wasn’t there. According to Aviation Week, the angle of the Sun caused a huge shadow to be cast over the lunar surface at the time the LRO was passing by causing it to eventually obscure India’s crashed Moon lander.

If the Vikram lander isn’t on the crash site or detected anywhere on the lunar surface, that implies the question of where it could possibly be. The lander hasn’t communicated anything since it lost communication with Earth, and despite ISRO saying that they are trying to establish communication with the lander, there’s no evidence to confirm that it’s still in one piece.

Even if they manage to find the lander, no research can really be conducted as India’s Moon lander and the Rover (Pragyan) has only the lifespan of one lunar day, or 14 days on Earth. Given that the spacecraft attempted the landing on Sept. 6, its lifespan is supposed to end today. Nevertheless, according to ISRO, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will continue its mission for a possible duration of up to seven years.