Chinese rover Yutu-2 continues exploring Moon as India awaits Vikram signals

Orbiter will have a lifespan of 7.5 years, it's possible to find Vikram Lander from orbiter: Isro chief

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman K Sivan on Saturday announced that the "90-95% of the Chandrayaan-2 mission objectives have already been achieved" and that "we should not call the mission a failure or setback".

Talking to TOI after the landing operation, the Isro chief said, "The orbiter will have a lifespan of over seven and a half years, not just one year as being said earlier, as there is a lot of fuel left. And there is a possibility of finding Vikram lander from sophisticated instruments on board the orbiter."

Sivan said, "The dual-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) on board the orbiter will be able to penetrate and see up to 10 metres of the sub-surface of the polar region and help us find water ice. Its high-resolution camera can zoom up to 30cm, that is also being a first in the world. And its advanced IR spectrometer (meant to measure spectral components of a physical phenomenon) can work up to 5 micron, instead of 3 micron that earlier ones had. These payloads will give a lot of data."Clarifying that the landing operation was just a "demonstration, which we could not achieve successfully", Sivan said this "mission won't delay any other mission and that we had a lot of missions in hand".

A senior scientist told TOI "There is a possibility of finding Vikram lander with the orbiter within three days. This is because an orbiter takes three days to come to the same point. We know the landing site but as Vikram deviated from the path at the last minute during the final descent, we have to look in an area of 10 x 10 km area from three payloads SAR, IR spectrometer and camera. We have to do high-resolution imaging of the area to find Vikram."

The scientist also clarified that "If Vikram has crashlanded and turned into pieces, then the chances of finding it will be bleak. However, if the component is intact, the high-resolution imaging will capture the image of Vikram."

The orbiter is loaded with eight payloads which will map entire Moon. Of the eight, IR spectrometer, two powerful cameras and dual-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) are very crucial to the mission."

Former Isro scientist M Annadurai, who was the project director of the 2008 Chandrayaan-1 mission, told TOI that the orbiter does many things which the lander and the rover couldn’t have. “While the rover’s research area would have been 500 metres, the orbiter will map the entire Moon from an altitude of about 100km.

Onboard equipment such as IR spectrometer, two cameras and dual-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) have much to do.” The IR spectrometer covers the entire Moon to study what three payloads of Chandrayaan-1 – India’s hyperspectral imager, Germany's near infrared spectrometer and Nasa's moon mineralogy mapper – have done,” explained Annadurai, who was the director of Bengaluru-based U R Rao Satellite Centre.

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter’s terrain mapping camera has a spatial resolution of 5m and a swath of 20 km, which will help Isro prepare 3D maps of the lunar surface. The high-resolution camera has a better resolution to pick up details as small as 30cm (Chandrayaan-1 camera had 1m resolution). Annadurai said the "work on Chandrayaan-2 started in 2009 itself" and therefore a lot of effort had gone in developing these low-cost but hi-tech payloads, which will definitely help discover "new things on Moon".

The south pole is supposed to have ancient rocks and craters that will cast light on the history of Moon and fossil records of the earlier solar system. The orbiter is also likely to look for a large cave, whose images were captured by Chandrayaan-1 orbiter, that could serve as a settlement for future manned missions. This is because it is very difficult for humans to survive on the surface due to hazardous radiation, micro-metoritic impacts, extreme temperature and dust storms. Chandrayaan-1’s stereoscope imagery suggests the cave, uncollapsed remains of an ancient lava tube, is located 160 metre below the lunar surface and is 2km long and 360 metre wide.

“Such a lava tube could be a potential site for future human habitability on the moon for future human missions and scientific explorations, providing a safe environment (to humans)...,” a team of scientists led by A S Arya of Isro's Space Applications Centre had reported in its findings.

Orbiter will cast light on Earth-Moon relations and their origin:

Earth and Moon don't just share a history, they also affect each other on a daily basis. Earth's gravitational pull is the reason we only see one side of Moon, creating a phenomenon called tidal locking. Just as a tightrope walker uses their stick to keep balance, Moon's gravity also offsets Earth's oblique orbit.

Earth's gravity causes tremors and other seismic activities on Moon -- called moon-quakes -- and even shifts physical structures on its surfaces. High and low tides are aligned with the pull Moon exerts on Earth at its apogee and perigee. The origin of Earth and Moon is supposed to be linked. if Chandrayaan-2's orbiter makes revelation about Moon's origin, it will also cast light about our planet's origin and evolution.

US Says Chandrayaan 2 Mission "A Huge Step Forward For India"

Chandrayaan 2 Mission: On Saturday, India would have become the fourth country - after Russia, US and China - to soft land on moon. However, minutes before the Chandrayaan 2 lander Vikram was expected to touch down on the lunar surface, ISRO lost communication with the lander.

 Chandrayaan 2 mission is a "huge step forward for India" and it will continue to produce valuable data to fuel scientific advancements, the United States said today, a day after India's second moon mission hit a snag during a historic landing attempt.
"We congratulate ISRO on their incredible efforts on Chandrayaan 2. The mission is a huge step forward for India and will continue to produce valuable data to fuel scientific advancements," Alice G Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia said in a late-night tweet.

"We have no doubt that India will achieve its space aspirations," the US diplomat added.

In its post, the State Department also quoted a tweet from US space agency NASA, which tagged the Indian Space Research Organisation and congratulated India for the moon landing attempt. 

"Space is hard. We commend @ISRO's attempt to land their #Chandrayaan2 mission on the Moon's South Pole. You have inspired us with your journey and look forward to future opportunities to explore our solar system together (sic)," NASA had tweeted. The State Department's post has been retweeted by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.

On Saturday, India would have become the fourth country - after Russia, US and China - to soft land on moon. However, minutes before the Chandrayaan 2 lander Vikram was expected to touch down on the lunar surface, ISRO lost communication with the lander.

Scientists at the space agency have not given up hope on establishing contact with the lander yet, ISRO chief K Sivan said on Saturday, adding that efforts will continue for the next 14 days.

He blamed faulty execution in the last stage of the operation for the loss of communication. "The last part of the operation was not executed in the right manner. It was in that phase that we lost link with the lander, and could not establish contact subsequently," he told national broacaster Doordarshan in an interview. 

India's determination to touch the moon has become even stronger and the best is yet to come, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday as he addressed scientists at the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru on Saturday. "We came very close, but we need to cover more ground.... Learnings from today will make us stronger and better," PM Modi said.

Chinese rover Yutu-2 continues exploring Moon as India awaits Vikram signals

A day when Indians felt sorry for their hard-working space scientists after the Vikram lander of the second Moon mission failed to return signals close to the touchdown, China's Xinhua news agency tweeted about the Chinese moon rover that shut down for the ninth lunar night on the far side since where it reached on January 3 aboard the Chang'e 4 lander.

Yutu-2, meaning the 'jade rabbit', the second robotic rover that the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) landed on the lunar surface under the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) has survived eight lunar nights and nine lunar days, shutting down for each night and resuming during the lunar day. A lunar night is as long as 14 nights on the Earth and the orbiter and the lander Chang'e 4 hibernate each night to conserve battery for the startup on the next lunar day. The solar-powered batteries can be charged only during the lunar day that also is as long as 14 days on the Earth.

Chang'e 4 carrying Yutu-2 was taken to the Earth's orbit by a Long March rocket that lifted off on December 7 last year. Chang'e entered the lunar orbit on December 12. Unlike the Moon Mission of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) that sent the orbiter Chandrayaan 2 as a composite payload to the lunar orbit with the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover attached, Chang'e 4 itself carried the Yutu-2 rover to the far side.

The Chinese solved the problem of inability to communicate with the Earth stations from the far side of the Moon by stationing a satellite, Queqiao, in the 'halo' orbit that is visible from both far side and the Earth. The 'halo' orbit is one that never takes the satellite 'behind' the Moon so that there will be continuous communication with the ground stations on the Earth. China had launched Queqiao six months before the lift-off of Chang'e 4.

Xinhua reports that Yutu-2 has covered 284.66 meters on the far side of the moon to conduct scientific exploration on the virgin territory. The Chang'e 4 probe made the first-ever soft landing on the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon on January 3, the report says.

Apart from Chinese equipment, the Chang'e-4 mission also carries four payloads developed by the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia.

India's Pragyan rover, meanwhile, was intended to travel a total of 500 meters. Both the lander, Vikram, and Pragyan were built to last one lunar day and not revive after the lunar night. However, the orbiter, Chandrayaan 2 is expected to continue orbiting the Moon for another year with the possibility of extension to two years, ISRO website says.

An astronaut is urging NASA to form a new spacesuit program now if it hopes to get back to the moon in 2024

NASA, you have a spacesuit problem.

That was the crux of a message delivered on Friday by Sandra "Sandy" Magnus, a seasoned former astronaut, during an official meeting of spaceflight safety experts in Houston, Texas, on Friday.

Magnus brought up the issue on behalf of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), which held its latest quarterly meeting at the Johnson Space Center. The group operates independently and is tasked with "evaluating NASA's safety performance and advising the Agency on ways to improve that performance."

NASA is racing to send people back to the moon, ideally landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface in 2024 with its new Artemis program; the last time anyone visited the moon was December 1972. Naturally, ASAP had a lot to say about NASA's big project.

Magnus, who flew to the International Space Station (ISS) twice and has spent more than five months in orbit, zeroed in on extra-vehicular activity, or EVA, spacesuits required for the Artemis program's missions.

"An integral system required to put boots on the moon are the boots," Magnus said.

She added that spacesuits are "one-person spaceships" that deserve similar levels of funding and attention.

"They're complex and they have stringent safety requirements, and are a critical component of not only the lunar program, but actually any potential exploration path that human spaceflight may engage upon in the future," Magnus said.

NASA is struggling to keep its current spacesuits operational

Right now, NASA's only operational EVA spacesuits are aboard the ISS, 40 years old - and not getting any younger.

The panel previously reported that NASA is struggling to upgrade the suits, let alone maintain them. ("The problem does not lie simply in the fact that the suits are old; the fact that manufacturers of several critical suit components, including the very fabric of the suits, have now gone out of business," ASAP wrote in April.) This in part led to the cancellation of what was supposed to be the first all-female spacewalk outside the ISS.

NASA has been working toward a replacement spacesuit system called the xEMU, which stands for "Exploration Extra-vehicular Activity Unit." The xEMU program is designed to both replace the aging relics that astronauts wear outside the space station and also pave the way for crewed exploration of the moon and Mars.

Magnus acknowledged that NASA has invested some money into researching, developing, and building prototypes, like the Z-2 spacesuit (shown at the top of this story). But she argued that the program isn't moving fast enough.

"Up to this point there's been a lack of priority placed on producing these next-generation spacesuits," Magnus said.

She added that, while the xEMU project is now being managed by an aspect of the Artemis program called the Gateway - a small space station that would orbit the moon, and what astronauts may eventually use as a pit-stop before Mars - ASAP feels the program needs to break out on its own and get more resources.
"In order to produce a safe and reliable lunar suit to meet the Artemis program's 2024 deadline, and - because of the broad applicability, complexity, and critical safety aspects of spacesuits - in general, we think NASA needs to immediately create a formal, structured spacesuit program," she said, noting that it should have "a well-defined budget, a schedule including critical milestones, and provide both the authority and responsibility to this entity to produce this critical piece of equipment."

She added: "We believe anything less than full, robust program-level attention to this system reduces the potential to not only field the capability, but do so in a safe manner."'

'It appears that Artemis is off to a great start'

But Artemis still needs to clear its first major hurdle, which it is the bureaucracy of federal budgeting.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in May that the agency needs a $1.6 billion "down payment" to get started in earnest on the program, though he later added that landing on the moon in five years may require $4-6 billion annually - a total of $20-30 billion - on top of NASA's existing yearly budget of about $22 billion.

Despite that challenge, ASAP member George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, was optimistic about the prognosis.

"It appears that Artemis is off to a great start. If Congress agrees to provide the needed funding, NASA may have a real shot at achieving the 2024 goal," Nield said. "At the same time it will be important to remember what can go wrong along the way, and what things need to be done to ensure crew safety."

Focus on developing domestic space industry: Nambi Narayanan

A day after, as we take a look at Chandrayaan-2, India’s moon mission, there are several aspects that ought to be considered. Malfunctioning of one or more thrusters, faults in the orientation path or any other element in the system, like a component or a valve, or even a software issue could be the reason for losing contact with the lander. And if so, why did it happen? Till we are able to identify the exact cause, the questions will keep coming.

One look at the mission map and you will realise that as per the plan, the lander should have taken a parabolic path to land. But it took a vertical turn.With just 2.1km remaining, it dropped directly. Had it followed the same path with more speed, it would have posed another problem. But since it diverted from the path and the data is now lost, this could probably signify a crash landing. I personally feel it is a crash landing. They should now look at other parameters to identify why it happened. It may be due to malfunctioning of one of the thrusters or due to an orientation effort.

We will surely be able to identify what went wrong. There are computer programmes based on the sensors. There is an automatic landing sequence. We need to verify whether firing occurred at the predetermined time. Once we take the printout of all parameters, based on that it can be confirmed whether it fired or not, or whether there was a malfunction too. A proper analysis will help to zero in on the exact cause.

However, in my opinion, you cannot quantify the success rate of the mission in terms of percentage. If you compare, there was no soft landing in Chandrayaan-1 either. But this one was scheduled for a soft landing. That is what makes it crucial. Since there was no soft landing, we would now not be able to analyse the functioning of the rover or its life and the solar power involved.

But there is no need to term the mission a failure. We have achieved everything other than the soft landing. The orbiter is still there. There are still other functions to be carried out.According to me, there is no need for a Chandrayaan-3. Each Chandrayaan mission costs huge amounts of money. If you are involved in the satellite business, you need to look at the funding aspect too, as this mission is aimed at long-term gains. So before we consider another mission, we need to first find out the exact reason why Chandrayaan-2 could not soft-land. If that is identified accurately, we would then know what exact remedial measures need to be undertaken to rectify the same.

Looking at the larger perspective, I think India should come up with a definite space programme with a three-pronged approach. It is time India took the lead to form a consortium—Asian Space Agency—on the lines of the European Space Agency (ESA).

A consortium of countries in the region, including India, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Maldives and all Gulf countries should be formulated. India should then assume the lead role. This will sort out one of the biggest problems, i.e. funding. We should similarly decide what would be the end goal of the project. Is it carrying four tonnes to the orbit? We have already achieved that. Or is it landing men on the moon? Or do we want to put up an infrastructure facility there? Gaganyaan can be one of the sub-projects of putting men on the moon.

We have a major PSLV launch pad at Sriharikota. We can create a launch pad for other countries to operate their missions from here. Since we are close to the equator, we have an advantage. There will be about 40-50 per cent gain in the payload being carried. We can operate missions from here for other countries.

India has been in the space business for long. After 56 long years, we have learnt several things, like how to handle a propellant, movement of rockets etc. We have enormous spaces available. India should try to cash in on these factors. However, unfortunately, we still continue to exist in a shell. If we actually open up our resources, our country would be able to generate more revenue, which can then be used for deep space missions. This should be taken up through diplomatic channels. It is like offering our service to other countries, who could use our land to launch, but still can maintain control over their satellites.

India should also focus on developing its domestic space industry. While other countries, like the USA, have scores of private space companies, how many do we have here? Even in China there are at least 100 private companies related to space. We should hence do everything to promote our space industries. We have a tendency to try and handle everything ourselves. India should now opt for a change of this old-world mindset and include our domestic industries to reduce cost.

To ensure the success of the Gaganyaan mission, we need to make preparations related to human health. But we haven’t done anything till now on that front. We have signed a Russian contract in this regard, but I am not at all happy with the progress made. Technological collaboration is what we need to think about.

We have excellent doctors in India. They should be trained to deal with matters related to low gravity, zero gravity, confinement, psychological conditions and physical reaction to space conditions, space food etc. But these are yet to be undertaken. We should start working on these factors right away.

Post a Comment