NASA finally pinpoints crash site of India's lost lunar lander
NASA has pinpointed India’s missing Vikram lander through the lens of its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, bringing an end to a three-month search for the fragmented spacecraft. New images from the NASA orbiter reveal the exact spot that the lander impacted on the Moon, along with how far its debris is scattered across the surface.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission was all going to plan on September 7 as mission control released the Vikram lander module from the orbiting spacecraft in a bid to make India just the fourth nation to touch down on the Moon. But contact was lost on descent, with the Vikram lander going silent around 2 km (1.2 mi) from the surface and remaining that way since.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) officials told local press soon after that the lander had been located on the surface and that it must have endured a hard landing. They then set about re-establishing contact, though visual evidence or confirmation of the destroyed lander’s whereabouts had not been forthcoming.
For the past few months, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the Moon with mission control keeping an eye out for India’s lost lander. By collecting images of the area the ISRO had targeted for its Moon landing, the team was able to compare before and after shots of the surface and tease out some differences that have now revealed its whereabouts.
The main crash site and impact crater is surrounded by a smattering of debris stretching hundreds of meters away. These are seen in green in the image below, while the blue dots represent disturbed lunar soil.
While the Vikram module didn’t survive the landing attempt, India’s Chandrayaan-2 continues to orbit the Moon carrying out valuable science. This includes using its eight scientific instruments to study the Moon’s topography, chemical composition and mineral distribution, as well as snapping ultra-sharp images of the surface.