By Ariana Keshishian
Indian’s lunar lander module, Chandrayaan-2, was intended to land on the surface of the Moon a little after midnight on September 7th, a month after it was shot into space. However, once the craft was 2 kilometers, or 1.2 miles, from the lunar surface it began to malfunction and it lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organization (IRSO), the country’s space agency, according to The Guardian.
A day after it lost contact, the agency found the module on the Moon’s surface tilted on its side and unbroken; however, no contact could be made. The ISRO said that the mission was “highly complex” and “represented a significant technological leap” compared against other missions.
IRSO originally planned for the probe to be the first to explore the Moon’s south polar region. Had the landing been successful, the next step would have been for a rover, Pragyan, to be deployed in order to collect mineral and chemical samples from the surface to look for evidence of water molecules on the Moon. Chandrayaan-2’s mission was conducted to study moon craters which were believed to have contained water deposits explored in an earlier survey by the Chandrayaan-1 probe back in 2008.
According to Professor Roddam Narasimha, a former member of ISRO, the problem in Chandrayaan-2’s descent could have been with the lander’s central engine. “One plausible explanation was that the lander started falling more rapidly…it’s supposed to come down at a velocity of two meters per second when it hits the Moon’s surface. But the gravity on the moon would have made it fall somewhat more rapidly.” Professor Narasimha believes that this is also the reason why India lost communication with the module.
Another possible explanation for the crash is that, due to the speed at which the lander was moving, it could have pulled up a considerable amount of dust which may have shaken the spacecraft due to gravity. However, scientists feel that the malfunctioning of one of the engines is a greater possibility, reports CNN. The Chandrayaan-2 mission was the most complex ever conducted or even attempted by ISRO.
A successful landing would have made India the fourth country to land a vessel on the moon and the third to operate a robotic rover on the moon, according to the ISRO’s website. To date, only three nations have ever landed a spacecraft on the moon – the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China.