LRO takes image of Vikram on Moon

Click for interactive map. To see the original
image, go here.

The science team for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) yesterday released an oblique image taken of India’s Vikram lander, on August 27, 2023, four days after the lander touched down about 370 miles from the south pole.

The LROC (short for LRO Camera) acquired an oblique view (42-degree slew angle) of the lander. … The bright halo around the vehicle resulted from the rocket plume interacting with the fine-grained regolith (soil).

That image is shown in the inset to the right. I have cropped it to focus on Vikram itself, which is in the center of the inset, with its shadow to its right, the opposite of all the surrounding craters. Pragyan is in this image, but neither it nor its tracks appear visible. The rover had moved west from the lander, which would be downward to the line of three craters near the bottom of the inset. To get a better sense of Pragyan route, compare this image with the map India’s space agency ISRO released on September 2nd.

Pragyan rover moves more than 300 feet away from Vikram

Map of Pragyan's traverse
Click for original image.

India’s space agency ISRO today released a map, shown to the right, that shows the entire traverse so far completed by its Pragyan rover in the Moon’s high southern latitudes. It has so far traveled more than 100 meters, or 300 feet, and continues to operate as planned.

The part of the traverse just south of the Vikram lander is where the lander filmed the rover doing several quick maneuvers and a 360 degree spin as engineers tested its operation before heading out on a longer journey. The rover’s image of the crater that the rover avoided, though released first, was actually taken afterward, after the rover had moved to the west.

Lunar sunset is in two days. Though engineers are preparing both Vikram and Pragyan for hibernation during that long lunar night, neither was designed to survive that extreme environment.

Vikram takes movie of Pragyan rover as it roves

Pragyan as seen by Vikram
Click for movie.

Using one of Vikram’s lander cameras, engineers have produced a short movie of India’s Pragyan rover as it rotated to avoid a small crater about ten feet ahead.

The picture to the right is from that 16-second movie, near its end. It appears that the engineers operating Pragyan were unhappy with almost any route ahead from its present position, as they rotated Pragyan almost 360 degrees, and even attempted forward motion at one point and then resumed rotation.

It is not clear if any of the craters visible in this picture are the crater that caused the detour. The movie however does provide a sense of scale. Pragyan is small, but it is able to maneuver easily using its six wheels.

Pragyan snaps first pictures of Vikram sitting on the Moon

Vikram as seen by Pragyan
Click for original image.

India’s space agency ISRO has released the first two pictures from the Pragyan rover showing the Vikram lander that bought both to the Moon safely.

The picture to the right is the close-up image, which shows two of Vikram’s science instruments. CHASTE is a probe that has been measuring the temperature of the Moon’s regolith at this spot, while ILSA is a seismometer for measuring the seismicity around the landing site.

Both spacecraft have been on the lunar surface now for one week, which means they are both halfway through their nominal two-week mission that lasts until lunar sunset, occurring on September 4th. Neither were designed to survive the 14-day-long lunar night, though engineers will attempt to kept both alive.

Both Vikram and Pragyan functioning as planned on the Moon

Pragyan on the Moon
Click to see full movie.

According to tweets from India’s space agency ISRO, both the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover are functioning as planned on the lunar surface, with the rover successfully activating its two science instruments.

The image to the right, taken by Vikram, shows the rover as it completed its roll down the ramp onto the lunar surface. This is a screen capture from a movie showing that roll down, which you can see by clicking on the picture. Since then it has moved another 26 feet from the lander.

I must add once again that Vikram did not land “on the south pole”, as too many so-called news organizations have been falsely claiming. It landed at about 69 degrees south latitude, quite a distance from that pole, in a flat region with no permanently shadowed craters. It is not specifically looking for water, though its instruments might help explain the orbital data that suggests there are areas on the surface of the Moon where hydrogen is somehow present.

If so many news outlets can’t seem to get these very basic facts about this mission correct, one must ask what else do they get wrong routinely? I don’t ask, because I always assume their information is wrong, check it constantly, and find repeatedly that they get numerous basic facts incorrect, especially when it comes to reporting on politics.

India’s Pragyan rover has successfully been deployed on the lunar surface

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According to a tweet from India’s space agency ISRO late yesterday, the Pragyan rover has successfully rolled down its ramp and is now deployed on the lunar surface.

No further updates have yet been released. According to ISRO’s mission webpage the instruments on both Vikram and Pragyan are as follows:

Lander payloads: Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) to measure the thermal conductivity and temperature; Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) for measuring the seismicity around the landing site; Langmuir Probe (LP) to estimate the plasma density and its variations. A passive Laser Retroreflector Array from NASA is accommodated for lunar laser ranging studies.

Rover payloads: Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) for deriving the elemental composition in the vicinity of landing site.

Pragyan’s two spectroscopes are likely similar to instruments on Curiosity and Perseverance on Mars, and allows some good surface analysis. Without a scoop however there will be no analysis of anything below the ground, unless the rover can upend a rock using its wheels.

India successfully lands Vikram on the Moon

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India this morning successfully placed its Vikram lander, carrying its Pragyan rover, on the surface of the Moon in the high southern latitudes.

I have embedded the live stream below, cued to just before landing.

The next challenge is getting Pragyan to roll off Vikram, and spend the next two weeks exploring the nearby terrain. The mission of both it and Vikram is only planned to last through the daylight portion of the 28-day-long lunar day, so it is not expected for either to survive the lunar night. Both will make observations, but the main purpose of this mission has already been accomplished, demonstrating that India has the technological capability to land an unmanned spacecraft on another planet. That the landing was in the high southern latitudes added one extra challenge to the mission.

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Watch the landing attempt of Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander on August 23, 2023

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After separating from its Chandrayaan-3 propulsion module on August 17, 2023, India’s Vikram lunar lander has been slowly making orbital adjustments in preparation for its landing attempt on August 23rd.

I have embedded the live stream of that landing attempt below. As it is scheduled for 6:04 pm (India time), in India, in the U.S. that landing will occur in the early morning hours of August 23rd.

Following the failed crash on the Moon of Russia’s lunar lander Luna-25 yesterday, this landing attempt is likely to garner a lot more interest. It is also India’s second attempt, having failed in 2019 when its Vikram lander ran out of fuel before landing and crashed.
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Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander separates from its propulsion module; Luna-25 in lunar orbit

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The two probes aiming to land in the high southern latitudes of the Moon in the next week are now both in lunar orbit and preparing for their planned landings.

First India’s Chandrayaan-3: With its propulsion module having completed the job of getting Chandrayaan-3 from Earth to lunar orbit, the Vikram lander today separated from that module in preparation for firing its own engines on August 23, 2023 and landing on the Moon.

Vikram needs to make several orbital adjustments before that landing attempt.

Second, Russia’s Luna-25 probe entered lunar orbit yesterday, where it will spend the next few days making its own orbital adjustments before attempting its landing on August 21st.

Vikram carries a small rover, Pragyan. Luna-25 is only a lander, though it has a scoop and will do analysis of the lunar soil below it. Neither is landing “near the south pole”, as most news sources are saying. They are landing at latitudes comparable to landing in the Arctic on Earth, on the northern coast of Alaska. As such, neither will find out anything about the question of remnant ice in south pole’s permanently shadowed regions.

Chandrayaan-3 reaches final lunar orbit for landing

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India’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft completed its final lunar orbital engine burn today, placing it in the correct orbit to release the lander Vikram, carrying the Pragyan rover.

The release is scheduled for tomorrow, with the landing targeting August 23, 2023. This will be India’s second attempt to softland an unmanned probe on the Moon. The Vikram lander of Chandrayaan-2 failed in 2019 during its final engine burn above the surface, crashing thereafter. Engineers at India’s space agency ISRO spent several years upgrading that lander to better insure this new attempt would succeed.

The lander has been given more ability to manoeuvre during the descent, the mission allows for a bigger 4 km x 2.4 km area for landing, more sensors have been added, one of the thrusters has been removed, and the legs of the lander have been made sturdier to allow for landing even at slightly higher velocity. More solar panels have also been added to ensure that the mission can go on even if the lander does not face the sun. More tests to see the capability of the lander in different situations were carried out to make Chandrayaan-3 more resilient.

Both Vikram and Russia’s Luna-25 lander, scheduled for touchdown on August 21, will land in the high southern latitudes of the Moon, at about 70 degrees. They are not going to the Moon’s south pole, as many news reports claim.

Chandrayaan-3 completes next-to-last orbital maneuver before releasing Vikram lander

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According to India’s ISRO space agency, its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft has successfully completed the next-to-last orbital maneuver burn before releasing Vikram lander, lowering the spacecraft’s orbit around the Moon to 150 by 177 kilometers.

Today’s maneuver can be considered the second last vital maneuver. The one that takes place on August 16, will set the course for the Vikram lander.

Based on how today’s and August 16’s manoeuvres are executed, ISRO will get to decide where the Vikram lander touches down, among three predesignated spots on the Moon’s surface.

It had been my understanding that the landing zone was as indicated by the red dot on the map to the right. It might be instead that was only one of three potential landing sites. If so, I will update the map when more data is released.

ISRO releases first images of the Moon from Chandrayaan-3

The Moon as seen by Chandrayaan-3

India’s space agency ISRO yesterday released the first images taken of the Moon by Chandrayaan-3, soon after entering lunar orbit.

The picture to the right is a screen capture from the short movie the agency compiled from those images, available at the link. The pictures were taken on August 5th, during the engine burn that put the spacecraft into lunar orbit. A solar panel can be seen on the left, with the cratered lunar surface to the right.

Chandrayaan-3 is presently undergoing a series of engine burns to lower its orbit in preparation for a planned August 23rd lunar landing in the high southern latitudes of the Moon.

Chandrayaan-3 enters lunar orbit

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India’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft today successfully entered lunar orbit, where it will spend the next week or so slowly lowering its orbit in preparation for a landing attempt by its Vikram lander on August 23rd.

Chandrayaan-3 began a roughly 30-minute burn around 9:30 a.m. Eastern, seeing the spacecraft enter an elliptical lunar orbit, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) stated via social media. “MOX, ISTRAC, this is Chandrayaan-3. I am feeling lunar gravity,” ISRO Tweeted. “A retro-burning at the Perilune was commanded from the Mission Operations Complex (MOX), ISTRAC, Bengaluru.”

The spacecraft will gradually alter its orbit with a burn to reduce apolune Sunday, Aug. 6. It will settle into a 100-kilometer-altitude, circular polar orbit on Aug. 17. From here, the Vikram lander will separate from the mission’s propulsion module and enter a 35 x 100-km orbit in preparation for landing.

If the landing attempt is successful, the Pragyam rover will roll off Vikram to operate for about two weeks on the lunar surface in the high southern latitudes of the Moon.

Meanwhile, the Russian lander Luna-25 will launch on August 10th. Since the rocket that launches it and engines it carries are larger than that used by Chandrayaan-3, it will likely land in Boguslawsky crater, before Vikram touches down nearby.

Chandrayaan-3 is now on its way to the Moon

Chandrayaan-3's mission profile

According to a tweet from India’s space agency, ISRO, engineers have successfully completed the trans-lunar-injection burn that has now sent its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander/rover on its way to the Moon.

As shown in mission’s profile graphic to the right, the spacecraft spent the last two weeks in Earth orbit. repeatedly raising its orbit to reduce the amount of fuel necessary to send it to the Moon. It will now take about five days traveling to the Moon, entering its orbit on August 5th. It will then spend about two weeks lowering that orbit slowly, until it is in the proper orbit for the descent to the surface on August 23, 2023.

If all goes well, its Vikram lander will gently place the Pragyan rover in the high southern latitudes, where it will function for about two weeks, or during the daylight portion of one lunar day.

Chandrayaan-3 completes fourth engine burn in Earth orbit

Chandrayaan-3's mission profile

According to India’s space agency ISRO, engineers have successfully completed the fourth of about six engine burns designed to raise Chandrayaan-3’s Earth orbit in preparation for sending it on its path to the Moon.

As shown in the graphic to the right, these adjustments are relatively small, but each increases the speed of the spacecraft at its orbit’s closest point to the Earth. That extra velocity thus reduces the amount of fuel needed for that trans-lunar-injection burn.

If all the maneuvers continue to go as planned, the landing attempt will occur around August 23, 2023.

Chandrayaan-3 completes second orbital maneuver

Chandrayaan-3's mission profile

According to India’s space agency ISRO, its lunar lander/rover Chandrayaan-3 today completed second orbital maneuver, raising the spacecraft’s orbit around the Earth from 41,762 by 173 kilometers to 41,603 x 226 kilometers.

The graphic to the right shows the entire mission profile of Chandayaan-3. It still has three more orbital adjustments to make in Earth orbit before it does its trans-lunar-injection burn to send it to the Moon. Once it arrives in lunar orbit it will then have to make six orbital adjustments to lower its orbit before making the descent to the surface.

The lunar landing itself is presently scheduled for August 23, 2023.

India successfully launches Chandrayaan-3

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India today successfully launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander/rover probe toward the Moon, carried aloft by its LV-M3 rocket (a variation of its GSLV) from its coastal spaceport in Sriharikota.

Chandrayaan-3 carries the Vikram lander, which will bring the Pragyan rover to the surface. Pragyan will spend about two weeks operating on the lunar surface. The location is indicated by the red dot on the map to the right, in the high southern latitudes. The white cross marks the lunar south pole. Russia’s Luna-25 is scheduled to launch sometime in mid-August.

It will take time to get Chandrayaan-3 into the right lunar orbit for landing, which is presently scheduled for August 13, 2023.

For India this was its fifth successful launch for the year, the most since 2019, before it panicked over COVID. The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

46 SpaceX
26 China
9 Russia
5 Rocket Lab
5 India

American private enterprise still leads China in successful launches 52 to 26, and the entire world combined 52 to 45, while SpaceX by itself still leads the rest of the world (excluding other American companies) 46 to 45.

Watch Vikram landing on Moon

Vikram's primary landing site

The new colonial movement: I have embedded below the live stream of India’s attempt today to land its Vikram lander on the Moon, broadcast by one of their national television networks.

The landing window is from 4:30 to 5:30 pm Eastern. This live stream is set to begin about 3 pm Eastern.

If you want to watch ISRO’s official live stream you can access it here.

Some interesting details: Vikram is named after Vikram A. Sarabhai, who many consider the founder of India’s space program. The lunar rover that will roll off of Vikram once landing is achieved is dubbed Pragyan, which means “wisdom” in Sanskrit. Both are designed to operate on the Moon for one lunar day.

The landing site will be about 375 miles from the south pole.

That spot is a highland that rises between two craters dubbed Manzinus C and Simpelius N. On a grid of the moon’s surface, it would fall at 70.9 degrees south latitude and 22.7 degrees east longitude.

The white cross on the image to the right is where I think this site is. The secondary landing site is indicated by the red cross.

Vikram makes second and last lunar orbital change

The new colonial movement: India’s Vikram lunar lander today made its second and last orbital change, preparing itself for landing on the Moon on September 7.

The orbit of Vikram Lander is 35 km x 101 km. Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter continues to orbit the Moon in an orbit of 96 km x 125 km and both the Orbiter and Lander are healthy.

With this maneuver the required orbit for the Vikram Lander to commence it descent towards the surface of the Moon is achieved. The Lander is scheduled to powered descent between 0100 – 0200 hrs IST on September 07, 2019, which is then followed by touch down of Lander between 0130 – 0230 hrs IST

They plan to roll the rover Pragyan off of Vikram about two hours after landing.

This article provides a nice overview of the mission.

Vikram has successfully separated from Chandrayaan-2

The new colonial movement: India’s lunar lander, Vikram, has successfully separated from Chandrayaan-2, and is functioning nominally in lunar orbit.

The update describing this is the second update at the link, with the first detailing the arrangements for the press to cover the landing on September 7.

The lander carries the rover, dubbed Pragyan, which will roll off Vikram only a few hours after landing.