ISRO Continues to Try to Contact the Lunar Modules
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said on Friday that it has not received any signals from the Chandrayaan-3 mission’s Vikram lander and Pragyan rover. The space agency is continuing its efforts to establish communication and ascertain their condition.
The lander, carrying the rover in its belly, touched down near the Moon’s little-explored south pole in August. They spent two weeks gathering data and images, after which they were put into ‘sleep mode’ at lunar nightfall.
ISRO hoped the batteries would recharge and the modules would reawaken when the Sun rose around 22 September. But it is possible that the extreme cold of the lunar night damaged the batteries.
On Friday, ISRO posted on X (formerly Twitter) that “efforts to establish communication with the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover will continue”. India made history with its Chandrayaan-3 mission when it became the first country to successfully land a spacecraft near the lunar south pole. It also joined an elite club of countries to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, after the US, the former Soviet Union and China.
The Challenges of Surviving the Lunar Night
The landing was carefully planned to coincide with the start of a lunar day, so that Vikram and Pragyan would have two weeks of sunlight to work with. One day on the Moon equals a little over four weeks on Earth, with the day and night each lasting about 14 days.
The space agency has provided regular updates on their movements and findings and shared images taken by them. While putting them to sleep, ISRO said both had completed all their assignments, but expressed the hope that they would reawaken at the start of the next lunar day.
Experts cited the example of China’s Chang’e4 lander and Yutu2 rover which did wake up several times with the sunrise. But former ISRO chief AS Kiran Kumar told the BBC that it was not a given, since night temperatures near the lunar south pole routinely plunge to -200C to -250C (-328F to -418F) and the batteries are not designed to operate or be stored at such extreme temperatures.
ISRO has tried to temper expectations, saying if Vikram and Pragyan do not wake up they will stay on the Moon “as India’s lunar ambassador”.
The Achievements of Chandrayaan-3 Mission
Chandrayaan-3 was India’s third lunar exploration mission, following Chandrayaan-1 in 2008 and Chandrayaan-2 in 2019. The mission consisted of an orbiter, a lander and a rover, which were launched on 22 July 2023 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.
The orbiter, which remains operational, carries eight scientific instruments to study the lunar surface and atmosphere. It has a planned mission life of one year and orbits the Moon at an altitude of about 100 km.
The lander, named Vikram after the father of the Indian space programme, carried three scientific payloads to conduct surface and subsurface experiments. It also carried the rover, named Pragyan, which means ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit. The rover had two scientific instruments to analyse the lunar soil and rocks.
The lander and rover successfully separated from the orbiter on 20 August 2023 and began their descent towards the lunar south pole, a region of scientific interest and potential resources. They landed near the crater Simpelius N on 23 August 2023, making India the first country to do so.
The lander and rover performed various tasks, such as measuring the temperature, pressure, seismic activity, magnetic field, soil composition and plasma environment of the lunar surface. They also captured high-resolution images and videos of the landing site and the surroundings. They communicated with the orbiter and the ground station through radio signals.
The mission aimed to enhance India’s scientific and technological capabilities, as well as inspire future generations of space explorers. It also contributed to the global understanding of the Moon and its potential for human exploration and utilisation.