India's attempt to land on the Moon resulted in a loss of contact with the Vikram lander.
UPDATE (December 13, 2019): While initial reports suggested the Vikram lander had made it to the lunar surface in one piece, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imaging and the hard work of citizen scientist Shanmuga Subramanian have located the remains, confirming that Vikram broke into several pieces when it landed on the Moon. Read more at EarthSky.org.
It wasn't meant to be. After a six-week journey, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lost contact with Chandrayaan 2's Vikram lander shortly before it was supposed to have touched down on the lunar surface. The Moon landing was set to occur on September 6th at 20:22 UT / 4:22 p.m. EDT. Vikram (Sanskrit for "valor") separated from the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter on September 2th at 7:45 UT for a four-day descent that would take it 62 miles (100 kilometers) down to the lunar surface.
"India is proud of our scientists!" says India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter. "They've given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!"
The landing attempt occurred on a plain near the lunar south pole on the nearside of the Moon, between the Manzinus C and Simpelius N craters. The site is located near -71°S, and a successful touchdown would have made it the closest soft landing near a lunar pole to date. China's Chang'e 4 mission landed near -47°S latitude on January 3rd. Israel's SpaceIL Beresheet mission failed an attempted soft landing in April.
Launched atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India on July 22nd, Chandrayaan 2 took a leisurely path to the Moon via a series of orbital boosts, gradually raising its elliptical orbit around the Earth until it was captured by the Moon's gravity late last month on August 20th.
The Chandrayaan 2 lunar orbiter began mapping the landing site and an alternate site last week, using its Orbiter High Resolution Camera (OHRC). Chandrayaan 2 will continue to map the lunar surface and monitor the lunar environment over the coming year.
The Vikram lander was set to to deploy a small rover named Pragyan (meaning “wisdom” in Sanskrit) shortly after landing. The solar-powered rover and lander made the landing attempt at local sunrise to give them both a maximum two weeks worth of daylight before they succumbed to the cold lunar night.
Listening for Vikram
The lunar landing site for Vikram and Pragyan was selected to search for lunar water ice trapped near the poles. An earlier ISRO mission, the Chandrayaan 1 orbiter, found direct evidence for water ice in craters trapped in perpetual shadow near the lunar poles.
The ISRO and NASA's Deep Space Network will continue to listen for Vikram in the coming days, but the prognosis is grim. The Chandrayaan 2 orbiter and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter may image the site as well.
We'll add updates as the story unfolds. If skies are clear tonight, be sure to take a look at the waxing gibbous Moon just past first quarter — now the final resting place for an intrepid landing attempt.