The primary mission of Chandrayaan-2 was to demonstrate the soft landing of the ‘Vikram’ lander on the South Pole of the Moon, operate the robotic rover Pragyan on the lunar surface, and get exciting images and data.
On September 7, during the last minutes of descent, the communication link snapped with Vikram when it was about 2.1 kms from the surface of the moon. After three days, the ISRO confirmed the sighting of Vikram through images beamed by the Orbiter.
ISRO Chief K Sivan said that the lander was in a tilted position and that it was not broken. Keeping alive hopes, he said that efforts are being made to restore link with the lander. The window of opportunity is said to be 14 days, which is one Lunar Day, and ends on September 21.
While it is a clear case of ‘so close, yet so far’ for the Indian space scientists, the ISRO claims that the mission was 90-95 percent successful, and this was also backed byMadhavan Nair, the former Chairman of the Indian space agency, who led Chandrayaan-1.
Now, let’s see the main components of the Chandrayaan-2 Mission. They are the Launch phase, the Orbiter phase and the Lander-Rover phase.
After initial hiccups with the launch, the ISRO achieved success when the GSLV MK-3 (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) propelled the payload into the destined orbit smoothly on July 22.
Next, it managed a series of neatly executed manoeuvres, all of which went smoothly, and the Orbiter reached the Moon’s orbit on August 20 as planned.
The third and crucial phase of the Soft Landing on the Moon turned into a hard landing.
The space agency’s first moon mission, the Chandrayaan-1, was launched on October 22, 2008. The mission had two main components, the launch and the deployment of the Orbiter.
It used the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) rocket, which had a record of successive launches.
Chandrayaan-1 functioned for 312 days, till August 2009. A major find of this mission was the discovery of traces of water molecules on the lunar surface.
In the decade leading up to the second moon mission, ISRO has seen many successes, like that of Mangalyan (Mars Orbiter Mission), the launch of a record of 103 satellites at one go using one PSLV launcher, the experimental reusable launch and other technological developments.
The big challenge was the GSLV, which had some mixed successes. The GSLV is crucial for India’s long-term engagement with outer space studies, and the launch of heavier satellites, for which the commercial market is huge.
Chandrayaan-2, is predominantly an ISRO venture. There is a presence of NASA in the mission, with the American space agency putting a Retroreflector, a laser-guided equipment which is part of the 14 payload experiments that the ISRO has contemplated.
In this background, though the second shot at the Moon took a decade, the ISRO was well prepared.
Confidence was so high that for the launch on July 15, President Ramnath Kovind was invited. However, at the last hour of countdown, a glitch was observed and the mission was postponed. To ISRO’s credit, it showed boldness in postponing despite the President’s presence.
Moreover, it bounced back quickly to plug the leak issue and give a fresh date for July 22, exactly a week after.
The performance of the GSLV MK-3 was remarkable and it boosts India’s launch capabilities and interplanetary missions in future.
Given that the mission was highly complex and unique, with several key technologies involved and studying the entire Moon, the ISRO has done a commendable job in achieving success in two of the three phases, while almost succeeding in the final phase also.
Whether it is 95 per cent or two of the three phases of success, the organisation will surely go back to the drawing board and fix the issues. Its record, starting from the Satellite Launch Vehicle in 1979 to GSLV, has been commendable in bouncing back from failures by learning from them, and achieving mission success at highly competitive costs and improved performances.
Already, the Chandrayaan-2 Mission has achieved efficiencies in each phase, which has become beneficial by itself. The best example of this is the enhanced life of the Orbiter, which will last nearly 7 years, compared to the expected one year.
The ISRO’s next Chandrayaan Mission is at least five years away and it will be a joint venture with Japan says the Space Agency.
A truly global playground
The Indian mission to land on the South Pole has revived the interest in the Moon.
However, the capability to land on the Moon and send humans were demonstrated nearly 50 years ago. In the space race between the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union, the US stole a march with its Apollo 11 Mission, as part of which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
The NASA driven Apollo Project from 1961- 1972 also saw 5 missions after Apollo 11 and a total of dozen men walking on the Moon. There were several failures too starting with a fire mishap in Apollo 1.
The Russians also had comparatively successful Lunar expeditions starting with the first landing by the spacecraft Luna 2 in September 1959.
The Chinese broke new ground by descending on the far side of the Moon on January 3, 2019 with the Chang 4 Spacecraft.
Israel suffered a failure in April 2019, when the spacecraft Bereshaft crashlanded.