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India finally admits its Moon lander crashed two months after it was destroyed

Published Nov 27th, 2019 7:06PM EST
moon lander crash
Image: NASA

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India was poised to make history in September by becoming one of just a handful of nations to achieve a soft landing on the Moon. Everything was going smoothly… until it didn’t. Just moments before the Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander was supposed to touch down, its handlers back on Earth lost all contact with the spacecraft.

It wasn’t immediately clear what had happened to the lander, and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was hopeful that the spacecraft survived its impact. It tried to spot the lander on the surface but failed to detect it and, even after NASA’s own orbiter scanned the surface, the fate of Chanrayaan-2 remained unknown. Now, two months after the lander was presumed destroyed, ISRO is acknowledging that the spacecraft is gone forever.

As NPR reports, the Indian government has finally broken its silence on the death of the spacecraft, following questions from lawmakers who were eager to learn its fate.

“During the second phase of descent, the reduction in velocity was more than the designed value. Due to this deviation, the initial conditions at the start of the fine braking phase were beyond the designed parameters,” Jitendra Singh of India’s Department of Space, explains. “As a result, Vikram hard landed within 500 m of the designated landing site.”

The Chandrayaan-2 mission also saw the insertion of a lunar orbiter prior to the deployment of the lander. The orbiter has been performing well for ISRO, but obviously, the group would have liked to have accomplished the soft landing they set out to achieve. The team spent a significant amount of time trying to wake the spacecraft back up and resume communication even after it was thought to have crashed, but those attempts were met with only silence.

It’s clear that the lander couldn’t handle the conditions it was met with during landing and failed as a result. Whether this was due to a failure of the lander’s own systems or an anomaly in how the spacecraft reacted is unknown.