Chandrayaan 2 and the “15 Minutes of Terror”

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Image Source -The Financial Express

Football fans weren’t the only ones awake at 1:30 in the morning on 7th September 2019. More than a month after the launch of the lunar mission, the landing of Chandrayaan 2 caught everyone’s attention. Chandrayaan 2 is arguably the most complex mission undertaken by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). While everyone was glued to the television screens waiting for the Vikram lander to perform a soft landing, an unfortunate turn of events in the last few seconds led to the loss in communication with the lander. Let’s find out what happened.

Why was the Chandrayaan 2 essential?

Chandrayaan 2 consisted of a lunar orbiter, the Vikram lander, and the Pragian Lunar Rover, all made in India. It was the first attempt to conduct a soft-landing on Moon’s s South Polar Region. The main objective was to find out the abundance and location of lunar water. A large section of this region lies in shadow. Everything here is frozen and the fossils found there can tell us more about the early solar system and possibly provide answers to age-old questions.

What actually happened?

The lander began its final descent to the moon at around 1:38 am.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with approximately 80 students who won a quiz on had the opportunity to watch the mission live at ISRO headquarters in Bangalore.
The first part of the powered descent of the lander was the rough breaking phase. 
Approximately 6 minutes after the start of the descent, Vikram lander successfully completed the rough breaking phase.
The trajectory and real-time position of the lander was shown live by various news channels and edutainment channels such as Nat Geo. The red path showed the expected trajectory to successfully soft land and the green path showed the actual trajectory of the lander.

The lander was following the expected path to the T. At 1:52 am an initial communications glitch was caused by a period of communications loss with the NASA Deep Space Network but they recovered. Thus, showing a very slight deviation between the expected and actual path.

A few minutes later, with the lander about 2.1 km above the surface which was approximately 1.3 minutes from landing, a sudden deviation was shown and ISRO lost all communications and were not able to regain signal.
The lander had a vertical velocity of 60 meters per second and a horizontal velocity of 48 meters per second and was approximately 1km away from the intended landing site before all communication was lost.
The final part of the landing was described as “15 Minutes of Terror” by ISRO chairman K Sivan before the descent of the lander began. This statement was true to the core. During these crucial minutes, nearly all braking and manoeuvring were to be done by on-board computers, with the mission control unable to do anything but be mere spectators.
Sivan himself came to brief the Prime Minister about the situation and a statement was released at around 3 am that all communications with Vikram Lander had been lost and that the team is analysing the data they have.
Chandrayaan 2 was to be a national pride but the failure didn’t deter the citizens. Prime Minister Narendra Modi showered the ISRO scientists with praises and appreciation and said that they will move forward with the moon mission with equal rigour. Various celebrities and netizens didn’t hesitate to praise the dedication and hard work of the scientists at ISRO. Foreign media as well as applauded the efforts of ISRO scientists. Support for ISRO took social media by a storm.
While Vikram lander was unable to soft-land, the mission was still 95% successful said former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair. He also added that “Already, the orbiter is in space and it should do an excellent job of mapping”. The maximum amount of scientific research was to be done by the instruments present in the orbiter. This includes the finding of lunar water. The Orbiter has full communications with the ground station and is not damaged.
Looking at the optimistic side, this wasn’t a failure but just a setback and India will achieve what it set to achieve.

- Written by Sunidhi Shende

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