Chandrayaan-2 95% successful, orbiter's life extended to 7 years

Chandrayaan-2 orbit successfully raised for fifth time
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India's prestigious space project Chandrayaan 2's unsuccessful bid to land on the moon might be disappointing but it can by no means be labelled a failure.

The Indian Space Research Organisation on Saturday said till date 90 to 95 per cent of the Chandrayaan-2 mission objectives have been accomplished and it would continue contributing to Lunar science despite the loss of communication with the Lander.

The space agency also said the precise launch and mission management had ensured a long life of almost seven years instead of the planned one year for the orbiter.

"The Vikram Lander followed the planned descent trajectory from its orbit of 35 km to just below 2 km above the surface.

All the systems and sensors of the Lander functioned excellently until this point and proved many new technologies such as variable thrust propulsion technology used in the Lander," ISRO said in an update.

The success criteria was defined for each and every phase of the mission and till date 90 to 95 per cent of the mission's objectives have been accomplished and it would continue contributing to Lunar science , notwithstanding the loss of communication with the Lander, it said.

The successful landing would have made India the fourth country after Russia, the US and China to achieve a soft landing on the moon, also the first to launch amission to the unexplored south pole of the Moon.

Pointing out that the orbiter has already been placed in its intended orbit around the Moon, ISRO said, "It shall enrich our understanding of the moons evolution and mapping of the minerals and water molecules in the Polar Regions, using its eight state-of-the-art scientific instruments."

"The orbiter camera is the highest resolution camera (0.3m) in any lunar mission so far and shall provide high resolution images which will be immensely useful to the global scientific community," it said, adding that the precise launch and mission management has ensured a long life of almost 7 years instead of the planned one year.

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is healthy and safe in the Lunar orbit, an ISRO official had said after the Vikram Lander lost contact with ground stations minutes before the touchdown on Moon's surface.

While an orbiter performs its mission while remaining in the orbit of the astronomical body, a lander (Vikram) is a spacecraft which descends and comes to rest on the surface of an astronomical body. A rover (Pragyaan) is capable of moving around on the astronomical body under its own power after it has landed.

Communication with Chandrayaan-2's Vikram lander was lost, while it was descending on moon's South Pole in the early hours of Saturday. The 2,379-kg Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, however, continues to fly around the Moon. Its mission life is one year.

The orbiter can take several pictures of the moon and send it to the ISRO over the next year. The orbiter can take pictures of the lander to find out its status too. The rover inside the lander had a lifespan of only 14 days.

The fact that India achieved this rare feat in under Rs 978-crore (satellite cost Rs 603 crore, GSLV MK III cost Rs 375 crore) is an achievement in itself. Compare this to $100 billion (Rs 7,164.5 crores) spent by NASA on its Apollo missions.

The comments from space enthusiasts and researchers from around the globe lauding the efforts of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and its more than 16,000 scientists bears testimony to the fact that the mission was a historic one despite the failure of the rover to land.

"Just a reminder to folks that on its way to putting this lander down, India did successfully put its second spacecraft in orbit at the Moon. Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will be up there doing science for a year. Lander would only have lasted 2 weeks," posted Emily Lakdawalla, a planetary evangelist and scientist.

Chris G-NSF, who writes for NASASpaceflight, said: "If Vikram failed to land - which it looks like - REMEMBER the ORBITER is where 95% of the experiments are. The Orbiter is safely in Lunar orbit and performing its mission. This is not a total failure. Not at all."

"Awesome to see so many women in mission control!" posted Dr Tanya Harrison, Director of Research at Arizona State University's Space Technology and Science Initiative and part of Mars' Opportunity rover team.

The Australian Space Agency tweeted: "The #VikramLander was just a few kms short of realising its mission to the Moon. To the team at @isro, we applaud your efforts and the commitment to continue our journey into space."

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had earlier posted: "Rooting for team India. Good luck, India!"

Vikram had successfully completed its rough braking phase and was descending well at its planned speed when the lander slightly deflected from its set trajectory and suddenly the link got snapped.

Witnessing the unexpected development on the screen, ISRO Chairman K. Sivan broke down but Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugged him, and praised and encouraged the team's effort. Appreciating the gesture, Daniel Carmon, former Israeli envoy to India tweeted: "What a moment! What a gesture!"

Chandrayaan-2 was launched into the space on July 22 by India's heavy lift rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV Mk III) in a text book style.

The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft comprised three segments - the Orbiter (weighing 2,379 kg, eight payloads), 'Vikram' (1,471 kg, four payloads) and rover 'Pragyan' (27 kg, two payloads).

After five earth bound orbit raising activities, Chandrayaan-2 was inserted into lunar orbit. The lander Vikram carrying the rover Pragyan separated from Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft on September 2, in its journey towards the moon.

The Vikram lander was only 2.1km away from its designated landing spot when its communication with the orbiter snapped.

All was going well with the 1,471 kg Vikram that began its descent from an altitude of 30 km at a velocity of 1,680 metres per second.

The lander successfully completed its rough braking phase with its descent speed going down well.

However, Vikram slightly changed from its planned path after this juncture and communication link snapped.

(With inputs from IANS and PTI.)

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