Early End to India’s Moon Mission


Artist concept of Chandrayaan-1 orbiting the Moon.
Credit: ISRO

India’s lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organization’s ground station early on August 29.

"We are not able to establish contact with the spacecraft. We are not getting the data, we are not able to send commands," an ISRO official told the Press Trust of India. "In simple terms, the spacecraft has become dumb. It can’t speak."

The scientific payloads onboard the orbiter had been operating normally, and the spacecraft was sending data during a planned sequence to its ground station when contact was lost.

ISRO officials said contact with Chandrayaan-1 may have been lost because its antenna rotated out of direct contact with Earth. Earlier this year, the spacecraft lost both its primary and back-up star sensors, which use the positions of stars to orient the spacecraft.

The loss of Chandrayaan-1 comes less than a week after the spacecraft’s orbit was adjusted to team up with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter for a Bi-static radar experiment. During the maneuver, Chandrayaan-1 fired its radar beam into Erlanger Crater on the Moon’s north pole. Both spacecraft listened for echoes that might indicate the presence of water ice – a precious resource for future lunar explorers. The results of that experiment have not yet been released.

This image from Chandrayaan-1 is a Mini-RF synthetic aperture radar (SAR) strip overlain on an Earth-based, Arecibo Observatory radar telescope image. The south-polar SAR strip shows a part of the Moon never seen before: a portion of Haworth crater that is permanently shadowed from Earth and the Sun.
Credit: ISRO/NASA/JHUAPL/LPI/Cornell University/Smithsonian


Chandrayaan-1 was launched October 22, 2008, reaching the Moon in early November. It made over 3,000 orbits and its high-resolution cameras relayed over 70,000 digital images of the lunar surface, providing breathtaking views of mountains and craters, including those in the permanently shadowed area of the Moon’s polar region.

Chandrayaan-1 was designed to orbit the Moon for two years, but lasted 315 days. It will take about 1,000 days until it crashes to the lunar surface and is being tracked by the U.S. and Russia, ISRO said.

Chandrayaan-1 had 11 payloads, including a terrain-mapping camera designed to create a three-dimensional atlas of the moon. It is also carrying mapping instruments for the European Space Agency, radiation-measuring equipment for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and two devices for NASA, including the radar instrument to assess mineral composition and look for ice deposits.

ISRO Chairman G. Madhavan Nair said the termination of Chandrayaan-1, although sad, is not a setback and India will move ahead with its plans for the Chandrayaan-2 mission to land an unmanned rover on the Moon’s surface to prospect for chemicals. ISRO also plans to launch a robotic mission to Mars sometime between 2013 and 2015.

"We have given a call for proposal to different scientific communities," Nair told reporters. "Depending on the type of experiments they propose, we will be able to plan the mission. The mission is at conceptual stage and will be taken up after Chandrayaan-2."