Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter has seven and a half years to scan the surface of the Moon

Chandrayaan 2's orbiter will scan the Moon's lunar regions for next seven and a half yearsISRO

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) attempted to soft land on the moon but lost communication with its lander, Vikram, seconds before touchdown.
  • The orbiter currently circling the Moon is running smoothly and is expected to last for the next seven and a half years.
  • "Chandrayaan 2 mission is 95% successful," said ISRO chairman K Sivan.
India’s mission to the moon wasn’t just about making the landing — that was only ‘record breaking’ part of it.

"Chandrayaan 2 mission is 95% successful," stated Sivan.

The mission’s saving grace is the orbiter. It’s also doing most of the heavy lifting with eight of the 13 payloads assigned to the mission resting on its shoulders.

"Extra fuel is available in the orbiter. At present, the orbiter life is estimated to last seven and a half years," said Sivan.

Chandrayaan 2 is a three part mission

In fact, there are three parts to Chandrayaan 2 — the orbiter, the lander named Vikram and the rover called Pragyaan. Pragyaan was unfortunately onboard the lander, so it probably won’t be roaming the lunar surface.

"It (Chandrayaan 2) had two objectives. One was science and the other was a technology demonstration," stated Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief K Sivan in an interview with Doordarshan.

"The science part is mostly a part of the orbiter. And, the technology demonstration was mostly a part of the lander and rover," he added.

Even if Vikram is intact, the rover could only exclusively communicate with the lander, which would then relay the information back to Earth — or there’s no way to send a signal to activate Pragyaan from mission control.

There’s still a chance Chandrayaan 2 will find water

One of the orbiter’s critical payloads is the Imaging IR Spectrometer (IIRS). Its primary objective is to map the mineralogy of the Moon and confirm where water ice might be present on the lunar surface.

According to ISRO, this is the first time that they will have a complete characterisation of water features in high spatial (80 meters) and spectral (20 nanometers) resolutions.

That means, not only can Chandrayaan 2 still track down water deposits but it will also be able to track other elements — like helium-3 considered to be an alternative to fuel, gold, and other rare Earth metals.

It won’t be doing it alone. While IIRS will be mapping the moon, the Chandrayaan 2 Large Area X-ray Spectrometer (CLASS) will going to be deep diving into its search for major elements — like magnesium, aluminium, silicon, calcium, titanium, iron and sodium.

A close up of the Moon’s poles

The other objective of the Chandrayaan 2 mission was to explore uncharted territory.

Even though an onground analysis might not be possible, the Dual Frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar (DFSAR) will conduct a high resolution lunar mapping of the polar regions.

It’s also going to try and estimate how much water ice is actually present near the Moon’s extremes — and how deep it goes.

Using dual frequencies, the payload is going to try and determine how thick the Moon’s the top layer — the regolith — is and how that thickness variates.

The Moon’s origin story

The rover, Pragyaan, was meant to explore the lunar surface on the South Pole — a region that’s largely preserved. Because of the shelter that craters provide, Pragyaan was hoping to learn more about the evolution and origins of the Moon through fossil records.

The orbiter might not be able to physically find these fossil records but there’s a lot it can do from the sky. The Terrain Mapping Camera 2 (TMC 2) will map the lunar surface in high spatial resolution of five meters.

The data sent back can give clues to the Moon’s evolution and even help collate a 3D map of the surface.

The moon, the sun and everything in between

The other payloads on board the orbiter will also be carrying out their own objectives.

For instance, the Solar X-Ray Monitor (XSM) will observe the x-rays emitted by the Sun and it’s corona.

The Chandrayaan 2 Atmospheric Compositional Explorer 2 (CHACE 2) is going to be following in the footsteps of its predecessor on board Chandrayaan 1. It will be carrying out an in-situ study of the composition and distribution of the lunar exosphere.

And, one of the payloads — the Orbiter High Resolution Camera (OHRC) — might even have some answers about what happened to Vikram, the lander. According to ISRO, it was OHRC’s job to provide high resolution pictures of the landing site to avoid any obstacles as the lander touched down.

It’s going to be a couple of days before India’s space agency discloses what actually happened during the moon landing. They are currently analysing the data to figure out what went wrong.
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