India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander likely crashed into the moon’s surface

India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander likely crashed into the moon’s surface

India’s attempt to safely land a spacecraft onto the surface of the moon likely ended in failure, dashing high hopes for the country to be just the fourth in history to successfully land there.

What happened: The Indian Space Research Organization launched Chandrayaan-2 on July 22 and reached the moon’s orbit on August 20. It spent the last two weeks lowering its orbit in stepwise descents, before a lander (with a rover onboard) separated from the orbiter on Monday.

The lander, named Vikram after the famed Indian astronomer and ISRO founder Vikram Sarabhai, began its descent to the moon on the morning of September 1, local time. Moments before it was expected to touchdown on the surface today, communications were lost––a sign that the lander had very likely crashed.

Vikram’s final vertical velocity was around 58 meters per second from 330 meters above the surface––quite fast for a lunar landing. Still, its fate remains unclear.

Last known contact: The lander was attempting to descend to a point on the surface 375 miles from the moon’s south pole, which would’ve made it the southernmost landing in lunar mission history. Scientists think the lunar south pole is home to an enormous cache of water ice, which could one day be mined and harvested to support habitats for lunar colonists or converted into rocket fuel for future spacecraft. Vikram and its six-wheeled rover Pragyan were expected to play a big role in investigating the extent of the ice deposits.

What’s next: ISRO is continuing to analyze the data and confirm the lander’s fate, but the news is quite discouraging so far. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, however, will continue to carry out an array of studies from an altitude of about 62 miles above the lunar surface for at least a year.