India’s mission to become the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon and the first to reach its south pole appears may have ended with failure today as communication was lost with its Vikram lander at around 2 AM India Standard Time on Saturday.
Kailasavadivoo Sivan, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization or ISRO, announced that communications with the lander was lost and that the lander had experienced normal performance up to 2.1 kilometers above the lunar surface.
The Indian mission aimed to search for traces of water and life in the craters which dot the southern pole of the moon. The scientific value of searching for water lies in the evidence it could provide about the lunar history and fossil records of the early solar system.
Besides the studies about water, the Indian mission carried 14 other experimental payloads, including a Laser Retroreflector Array from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States. The array would have provided precise measurements of the distance between the moon and the earth.
The Vikram lander and Pragyan rover for the mission would have survived for 14 earth days. The orbiter survived the mission and will the moon for at least a year. The first Indian mission to the moon, named Chandrayaan-1, played a huge part in determining the presence of water on the lunar surface in 2008.
The ISRO spent close to $150 million for the lunar mission. The first Indian mission to the moon, named Chandrayaan-1, was an orbiter mission and cost just $56 million.
The lander for the Chandrayaan-2 moon landing was designed and developed in India, which presented a technological landmark for the South Asian nation.
The Indian space program has come a long way from its humble origins in 1962. India plans on launching an exclusive manned space mission by 2022 with the assistance of Russia. But China’s space program is emerging as the world’s most advanced. In January, China became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. And in July, China successfully deorbited the experimental Tiangong-II space station, paving the way for its first permanent space station.
Space programs worldwide are becoming increasingly commercialized and militarized. In June, New Delhi created a new space warfare agency to develop counter-space capabilities. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the reestablishment of a unified space military command. In July, France established its own space command.