After years of preparation and months after launch, the Indian moon mission, that included the Vikram lander that separated from the orbiter last week, ran into problems on the last portion of its descent. On Friday the ISRO confirmed that it had lost contact with the Vikram lander as it descended to the surface of the moon on the final stages of its landing.
Contact was lost with the lander when it was about 1.2 miles above the surface of the moon. The location of the lander was discovered on Sunday, a day after it lost contact with mission controllers. ISRO chairman K. Sivan has been quoted as saying, “It must have been a hard landing.”
There have been no comments from other ISRO officials. Efforts were underway to try and establish contact with the lander. While it’s unclear, the assumption at this time is that the mission is a total loss. The lander was to deploy a rover that intended to study craters that are never exposed to the sun for the presence of water ice.
A successful landing on the surface of the moon would have made India the fourth country to land on the lunar surface and only the third to operate a robotic rover on the moon. After the failure of the ISRO mission, the U.S., China, and the former Soviet Union are the only countries to have landed spacecraft on the moon.
There is no indication of what went wrong on the final descent to the surface of the moon to cause the lander to be lost. It’s also not clear right now if communications will be established with the lander. If it was a hard landing, communications seem unlikely. The mission launched on July 22, 2019, and cost India $140 million.