Vikram fails to land on Moon


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Vikram, India’s first attempt to soft land on the Moon, apparently has failed, with something apparently going wrong in the very last seconds before landing.

As I write this they have not officially announced anything, but the live feed shows a room of very unhappy people.

It is possible the lander made it and has not yet sent back word, but such a confirmation should not take this long.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was given a very short briefing by K. Sivan, head of ISRO, and then apparently left without comment. This I found an interesting contrast to the actions of Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when its lunar lander Beresheet failed in landing earlier this year. Netanyahu came out to comfort the workers in mission control, congratulating them for getting as far as they had. Modi apparently simply left. UPDATE: Modi has reappeared to talk to the children who had won a contest to see the landing as well as people in mission control. After making a public statement he has now left.

They are now confirming that communications was lost at 2.1 kilometers altitude, which was just before landing. They are analyzing the data right now to figure out what went wrong.

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11 comments

  • David G Lohnes

    Really makes me appreciate even more what we were able to accomplish 50 years ago.

  • Edward

    At least they have an orbiter to continue a mission.

  • Ian C.

    All is well. The landing wasn’t completely in their control. But thinking about the next steps is. All is well.

    And Modi was right now in the control room and spoke with the scientists.

  • Edward

    I was impressed that not only did Modi talk to the scientists and engineers in the control room, eliciting applause during a difficult and emotional time for them, but he also spoke to the student guests and took a couple of questions from them.

    David G Lohnes wrote: “Really makes me appreciate even more what we were able to accomplish 50 years ago.

    The United States first sent unmanned crash-landers (Ranger series) in order to learn how to hit the Moon (some of them missed), and put a couple of soft landers (Surveyor series) on the surface (a couple of them crashed) before attempting the first manned landing. In addition, before the first manned landing, the U.S. sent two manned missions to the Moon, one to orbit and one to do a dry run of the equivalent of Vikram’s “rough braking” phase, which NASA called “braking phase” of “powered descent” for Apollo. Perhaps we should not be too surprised that Vikram and Apollo 11 had problems during the next phase, which ISRO called “fine braking” and NASA called “approach phase.”

    How do you get to the Moon? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.

    Space is difficult and dangerous. While disappointing, it is not surprising that India’s first soft landing attempt failed. The Soviet Union had difficulty with its early attempts to send unmanned lunar landers. Japan also had a failed orbiter, and last year both Israel and China had spacecraft failures attempting to reach the Moon.

    We work much harder on safety for manned missions than unmanned ones. Our current manned spacecraft are taking longer to develop and certify than America’s early manned spacecraft, but some nasty lessons were learned in the 1960s and every couple of decades thereafter.

    Landing on the Moon was no exception to the increased safety philosophy. If things had gone wrong during landing, the astronauts could abort and ride the ascent module back toward the Command-Service Module “mother ship,” which could maneuver to their abort orbit. Landing man on the Moon was still difficult, but some of the danger had been reduced.

  • David

    We’ve gotten so used to watching the boundaries get pushed, particularly with all the magnificent things SpaceX has been doing the last decade, and the massively successful probes that NASA, JAXA, and the ESA have out there right now, that failure is coming as a surprise. But space is HARD. The number of things that ISRO had to get right just to get within a minute of a successful landing is a testament that they have a good program staffed by good people. Now we’ll see if they have what it takes to recover from the disappointment, figure out what went wrong, fix it, and try again. I hope they do.

  • Edward: Israel’s failure was in April 2019, this year, not last. And I am totally unaware of a Chinese failure to reach the Moon last year. The only example I can find is the failure of one of two test cubesat lunar orbiters, designed to test that engineering on a planetary mission. While this prevented the science planned for the two spacecraft, working in unison, the other cubesat successfully beamed back pictures and demonstrated the viability of a cubesat planetary mission.

  • Edward

    Robert,
    The cubesat failure is what I was thinking of.

    Apparently, April seems like a long time ago, so I messed up that one. But I also have difficulty believing that April is over — that is April of 1994, a difficult but rewarding month for me.

  • Col Beausabre

    Those darn Martians have taught their Lunar friends how to foil Earthling landings!

  • Jeff

    Over on the UMSF site, cartographer Phil Stooke has updated his Lunar Landing and Impact map.

    http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?s=&showtopic=6862&view=findpost&p=245611

  • wayne

    Jeff–
    Thanks for that map-link!

    —————-

    “Assignment: Shoot the Moon” (1967)
    NASA film HQ-167: Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter
    https://youtu.be/5Q1CVk4Yu2o
    25:26

    “The Ranger spacecraft were designed to take images of the lunar surface, returning those images until they were destroyed upon impact. A series of mishaps, however, led to the failure of the first six flights. At one point, the program was called “shoot and hope”. Congress launched an investigation into “problems of management” at NASA Headquarters and Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After reorganizing the organization twice, Ranger 7 successfully returned images in July 1964, followed by two more successful missions.”

    “The Surveyor Program was a NASA program that, from 1966 through 1968, sent seven robotic spacecraft to the surface of the Moon. Its primary goal was to demonstrate the feasibility of soft landings on the Moon. The mission called for the craft to travel directly to the moon on an impact trajectory, on a journey that lasted 63 to 65 hours, and ended with a deceleration of just over three minutes to a soft-landing. The program was implemented by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to prepare for the Apollo program. The total cost of the Surveyor program was officially $469 million dollars. Five of the Surveyor craft successfully soft-landed on the moon, including the first one. The other two failed: Surveyor 2 crashed at high velocity after a failed mid-course correction, and Surveyor 4 was lost to contact (possibly exploding) 2.5 minutes before its scheduled touch-down.” [“Some parts of Surveyor 3 were returned to Earth by the crew of Apollo 12, which landed near it in 1969. The camera from this craft is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.”]

    “The Lunar Orbiter program was a series of five unmanned lunar orbiter missions launched by the United States from 1966 through 1967. Intended to help select Apollo landing sites by mapping the Moon’s surface, they provided the first photographs from lunar orbit. All five missions were successful, and 99% of the Moon was mapped from photographs taken with a resolution of 60 meters or better. The first three missions were dedicated to imaging 20 potential manned lunar landing sites, selected based on Earth-based observations. These were flown at low inclination orbits. The fourth and fifth missions were devoted to broader scientific objectives and were flown in high-altitude polar orbits… All Lunar Orbiter craft were launched by an Atlas-Agena D launch vehicle.”

  • mpthompson

    Seems the Vikram has been found and photographed after suffering a “hard landing” on the lunar surface by its orbiting sister, but there seems to be little hope that contact can be established.

    https://www.engadget.com/2019/09/08/india-finds-missing-lunar-lander/

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