Time is running out for India to establish contact with its lunar lander

Time is running out for engineers from the Indian space program to establish contact with the troubled Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander.

Earlier this week, more details were revealed about what exactly went wrong as the Chandrayaan-2 lander descended towards the lunar surface. As reported by India Today, the lander flipped upside down around 11 minutes before it was due to touch down. It was supposed to rotate slightly to point its camera toward the surface to search for a landing site, but something went wrong and the lander flipped entirely. This meant that the landing thruster, which should provide force upward to counteract the lander’s descent speed, was instead facing away from the moon and forced the lander downward.

Communications were lost with the lander during this time and have not been re-established since.

The mission control crew looks on as India’s space agency loses contact with its moon lander. ISRO

Officials at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) were able to locate the lander on the moon last week, and they have been trying to re-establish communications with the hope of saving either the Vikram lander or the Pragyan rover inside it. There is a time window they need to consider, however. The lander and rover were both designed to last for one lunar day, which is the equivalent of 14 days here on Earth. With a week passed since the landing date, the ISRO engineers have only one more week to get in contact with the lander before it runs out of power.

“Progressively, you can imagine that it becomes that much more difficult, with each passing hour, the available power on the battery gets drained out, and there won’t be anything left for it to power and operate,” a representative of ISRO told the Press Trust of India. “With every passing minute, the situation becomes worse… [It is] less and less probable (to establish contact with Vikram).”

It may be possible for the Vikram lander to recharge its batteries using its solar panels, although this is looking increasingly unlikely. It is not even certain how much damage the lander has suffered, so its solar panels could have been destroyed.

More information about the lander should be coming soon, as NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be flying over the landing site next week and will collect images of the area with its high resolution camera.