why Chandrayaan-2 is pause and process moment for Isro
The health of lander Vikram of Chandrayaan-2 is yet not fully ascertained, though it has been accurately located. The robot researcher, rover Pragyan could not hatch from the shell of Vikram on the intervening night of September 7-8. Still, in terms of science, the Chandrayaan-2 mission of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is 90 per cent successful.
The unexpected twist in the final five minutes of the Moon-landing exercise, however, is a commentary on the a critical ability of Isro that concerns future missions and ambitions of a space agency that has an enviable record internationally.
This is the second setback for Isro on the Moon mission. Chandrayaan-1 that sent irrefutable evidence about the presence of water on the Moon did not last its expected life of two years. It was fully functional for about eight-nine months and had to be aborted in less than one year after its launch. Chandrayaan-1 is still orbiting around the Moon but is incommunicado.
According to information available Vikram failed to soft land on the Moon. This was Isro’s first attempt at soft landing, which China has shown a mastery over with three such landings on the Moon. This failure could raise question about Isro’s control over critical technological aspect of future space programmes.
Isro has lined up programmes such as sending humans in Gaganyaan, another mission to the Moon, a mission to Venus — often called the twin-sister of the Earth — next year, a solar mission — Aditya L1 and the ultimate stated objective of setting up a space station.
Failure in soft landing of Vikram on the Moon might have close connection with the Gaganyaan mission, which cannot afford to have any margin for error. It is an ambitious project expected to be launched in December 2021.
Gaganyaan mission depends on Isro’s error-free control over launch of crewed spacecraft, ability to eject in case of faulty launch, wherewithal to support life in space and re-entry of the spacecraft into the Earth’s atmosphere.
In June this year, the Gaganyaan National Advisory Council held its first meeting at Isro headquarters in Bengaluru, where the body underscored the challenge of meeting the tight deadline of the launch of manned space mission.
Gaganyaan is expected to carry two-three astronauts, who will be drawn from the Indian Air Force (IAF), which is likely to have its say in the crucial decisions regarding the mission.
Isro is reported to have conducted some tests involving escape during faulty launch, life support module in space and re-entry technology but the failure in soft landing on the Moon may call for more tests to regain confidence before sending humans into space.
There have been suggestions about advancing the schedule of Chandrayaan-3, slated for 2024, and launch the mission before Gaganyaan. Chandrayaan-3 is an Isro mission in collaboration with Japan’s Jaxa (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).
Under Chandrayaan-3 mission, Isro will deploy Jaxa lander and rover to the south pole of the Moon for exploring the region further. Both Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2 were sent to the same south pole region of the Moon.
Isro may be tempted to reassess its technological prowess by launching robotic missions of space exploration before launching Gaganyaan, though, its chairman K Sivan said after Vikram “failure” that future missions would not be affected.