It’s now been nearly two full weeks since India’s lunar lander, Chandrayaan-2, went quiet moments before what was supposed to be a soft landing on the Moon. Rather than gracefully gliding to a halt, the spacecraft crashed, and its handlers back on Earth haven’t been able to establish contact since.
Last week, NASA said it would do its best to help by targeting the suspected crash site with its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It was thought that if the LRO could capture a clear image of the downed spacecraft it might provide some additional information and help the India Space Research Organization decide how to proceed. Unfortunately, the LRO’s powerful camera just couldn’t spot the lander, and hope of salvaging the mission is fading rapidly.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission included a lunar orbiter, a lander, and a small rover. The orbiter, which is still traveling around the Moon, apparently spotted the crash site itself, according to ISRO. However, the agency has not made any of those images public, and it’s unlikely the camera on the orbiter would have been able to determine the condition of the crashed lander anyway.
NASA’s LRO had a better shot at gathering some useful information, but it couldn’t locate the lander or any evidence of a crash. This isn’t entirely surprising, since the angle of the Sun cast huge shadows over much of the area while the LRO was attempting its search. As Aviation Week explains, it’s likely that this obscured the crash site.
So, where does ISRO go from here? Nobody really knows. The lander hasn’t said a thing since it went quiet moments before it crashed, and repeated attempts to wake it back up have been met with only silence.
At this point, it seems clear the lander is severely damaged, even if ISRO says its initial glimpse of the crash site suggested it was still in one piece. It’s a huge bummer for the Indian space program, and right now there’s little the Chandrayaan-2 team can do but hold on to the last shreds of hope that the lander might wake back up.