Chandrayaan-2; Vikram does not answer anymore. The Indian Space Agency (ISRO) lost contact on Saturday with the uninhabited probe that was to make India the fourth nation to put a device on the moon and record the return of the man on this natural satellite considered a relay to Mars.
ISRO had anticipated a delicate moment by saying it was preparing to go live “15 minutes” during the landing attempt of the lander Vikram. And this quarter of an hour justified these fears.
“The descent of the Vikram undercarriage was proceeding as planned,” said space agency president Kailasavadivoo Sivan in the control room in Bangalore (south). “Then the communication between the undercarriage and the ground control was lost. The data is being analyzed. ”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to Bangalore responded by assuring scientists that what they had done was “no small feat”. “Life has ups and downs. Your hard work has already taught us a lot and the whole country is proud of you. “
“If communication [with the lander] is restored, all hopes are allowed. Our journey will continue. Be strong. I am with you” said the Prime Minister.
Launched on July 22 with a firing point in southern India, the Vikram landing gear of the Chandrayaan-2 mission was to land between 1:30 am and 2:30 am Saturday Indian time near the South Lunar Pole, after a month and a half of orbital rotations around the Earth and then the Moon.
Once immobilized, he had to release a small mobile robot, supposed to operate with solar energy for about fourteen days on land and perform scientific surveys.
But the moon landing phase is as crucial as it is delicate. If the machine does not slow down enough, it comes too fast and shatters against the desolate surface. In April, an Israeli lunar probe missed its moon landing and crashed.
India’s ambition was to become the fourth nation in the world to successfully land a plane on Selenite soil after the Soviet Union, the United States and China.
Above all, Chandrayaan-2 was supposed to be the first spacecraft to land in the South Pole region, unexplored by man. Previous lunar landings, notably those of the American Apollo program, occurred at the equator on the visible side of the Moon. At the beginning of the year, a Chinese probe was first laid on the hidden side.
“India is going where the future human settlements will probably be in 20, 50 or 100 years,” says Mathieu Weiss, French CNES representative in India. “That’s why the entire scientific community follows this mission. ”
Indeed, the lunar poles offer constant temperatures as well as water in the form of ice in the shadow of gigantic craters. Vital factors for installing potential bases, imagined as scientific experimental sites and future relays for rockets to the planet Mars.
“People go to the moon, because it’s the first step to go to Mars. There is no point in going to the moon if you do not see it from the global perspective of flights to Mars, “says Weiss.
“If you want to survive on the moon, you need water to live, and you need water to produce energy, you can run engines with water,” he says.
The Moon has been relatively neglected by humans since the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s, with space agencies preferring to study and explore the solar system.
But the Earth’s satellite, some 384,000 kilometers away, has been the subject of renewed international interest for some time. The US government has asked NASA to return astronauts for 2024, this time targeting the South Pole as a landing zone.
New Delhi spent $140 million on Chandrayaan-2, well below other major space agencies for missions of this type. The Indian space program has been noted in recent years by combining ambition and budget sobriety, as well as its progression at no charge.
ISRO is planning to send a crew of three astronauts into space by 2022 which would be their first manned flight. Its scientists are also working on the development of its own space station, expected over the next decade.