Just 2km from landing on Moon, Vikram goes silent

Headline : Just 2km from landing on Moon, Vikram goes silent 

Details :

In News

  • The Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan-2 failed to make a smooth soft-landing on moon, as it was unable to bring down its speed to the required level.

About: Chandrayaan-2

  • The Chandrayaan-2 Mission was launched in July, 2019 to attempt landing near the little-explored south pole of the Moon.
  • The mission was to focus on the lunar surface, searching for water and minerals and measuring moonquakes, etc.

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Parts of the Spacecraft:

  • The spacecraft used in the mission has three distinct parts: an orbiter, a lander and a rover.
  • The orbiter, which weighs 2,379kg (5,244lb) and has a mission life of a year, will take images of the lunar surface.
  • The lander (named Vikram) weighs about half as much, and carries within its belly a 27kg Moon rover with instruments to analyse the lunar soil.
  • The rover (called Pragyan – wisdom in Sanskrit) was designed to travel up to a half a kilometre from the lander and send data and images back to Earth for analysis.

Mission Vehicle

  • The mission vehicle was a GSLV Mk-III rocket.
  • GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) rockets can carry heavier payloads and travel deeper into space, and it was used as Chandrayaan-2 was heavy, with a total mass close to 4,000 kg.
  • It is powered by a core liquid engine, has two solid boosters that are used to provide the massive thrust required during liftoff, and a cryogenic engine in the upper stage.

Landing site

  • Though not exactly at the South Pole, the landing site was as far as any spacecraft has gone in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • NASA’s human landings about 50 years back, have been mostly near the Lunar Equator.
  • In contrast, Chandrayaan-2’s landing site was close to permanently shadowed craters near the South Pole that might store water ice.

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Background

  • Till date, only three countries — Russia, the US and China—have successfully soft-landed on the Moon.
  • India was attempting to soft-land a probe on Moon for the first time. It has earlier carried out an orbiter mission, Chandrayaan-1, around Moon in 2008.
  • The Chandrayaan-2 Mission was launched in July, 2019 to attempt landing near the little-explored south pole of the Moon.
  • In August 2019, the spacecraft slid precisely into its planned orbit around the moon.
  • In early September, 2019, the landing module (the Vikram lander with the Pragyan rover inside it) separated from the orbiter and entered an orbit of moon.

News Summary:

  • India’s attempt to create a history by becoming the first nation to land close to the south pole of the Moon has declared failed, after contact with lander Vikram was lost.
  • To decelerate after starting its descent, the lander continuously fired its four thrusters in the direction of its movement and the ‘rough braking phase’ of the lander went smoothly for 10 minutes. The lander’s descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km.
  • Subsequently, the communication from lander to ground stations was lost. No signal from the lander can mean that a communication glitch, a possible power issue with the rover, but can also mean that the rover did not survive the landing.
  • However, the Orbiter which ferried lander Vikram and rover Pragyan to the Moon’s orbit remains functional.
  • The mission life of the Orbiter is one year. The Orbiter payloads will conduct remote-sensing observations from a 100 km orbit.

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Successful Chandrayaan-2 would have furthered human efforts at bulding Lunar Bases

Rationale of a Lunar base

  • Humans live in narrow ranges of temperature, pressure, humidity, radiation levels and other attributes. Such an environment can be replicated in a habitation module, which can be possible on the Moon and Mars.
  • The idea is to build a mini-city on the Moon or a Lunar base with houses (or habitation modules) where humans live, with support infrastructure like a power generation grid, communication network and vehicles for surface mobility.
  • Moon is preferred over Mars for a permanent base, because Mars is about 1000 times further away compared to the Moon. This leads to a long round trip of at least 1 year from Earth to Mars while the journey to the Moon can be traversed in 3 days through a powerful launch vehicle.

Conditions for Lunar Colonization

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  • In order to rationalize costs, two fundamental human needs, water and oxygen, need to be available from lunar materials.
  • Further, a fundamental logistics requirement, rocket fuel, needs to be extracted and produced on the Moon.
  • Transporting water, oxygen or rocket fuel from Earth would exponentially increase costs to untenable levels.
  • Thus, availability of water on the moon is critical as it can provide for all three needs.

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Chandrayaan-2’s importance in finding water

  • Chandrayaan-2 would have provided information related to location of water ice deposits in permanently shadowed craters on the Moon.
  • Specifically, the location and extent of water ice deposits, would have helped further robotics missions and technology development efforts to effectively extract, transport and store the water.

Section : Science & Tech

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