New Delhi: Time is running out for ISRO’s attempts to reawaken the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover that landed near the lunar south pole last month.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission was a success on all fronts, from demonstrating the ability to soft-land on the lunar surface to completing the scientific experiments that it was tasked with. The rover and lander were designed to function for one lunar day – or two weeks on Earth.
The spacecraft were not designed to survive the lunar night temperatures – which near the south pole can dip below -200° C. But ISRO, in a bid to extend the rover and lander’s lifespan, decided to shut down all instruments on September 2, a little before sunset, and put them in “sleep mode.”
The hope was that with the batteries fully charged, the instruments could be kept warm enough to survive the frigidity.
ISRO’s tweet hinted that the rover and lander may not be revived. “Hoping for a successful awakening for another set of assignments! Else, [the rover and lander] will forever stay there as India’s lunar ambassador.”
The space agency’s attempts to awaken the spacecraft on September 22, when the region received sunlight, were unsuccessful. The efforts will continue until September 30, when night will fall again.
Efforts have been made to establish communication with the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover to ascertain their wake-up condition.
As of now, no signals have been received from them.
Efforts to establish contact will continue.
— ISRO (@isro) September 22, 2023
However, experts say that chances of reawakening are dimming with every passing second.
Former ISRO chief A.S. Kiran Kumar told the BBC that the lander and rover have many components which may not have survived the nighttime temperatures. “Unless the transmitter on the lander comes on, we have no connectivity. It has to tell us that it’s alive. Even if all other sub-systems work, we have no way of knowing that,” he said.
Scientists told The Guardian that there was “around a 50% chance that the devices could endure the freezing temperatures”.
With Chandrayaan-3, India became only the fourth country to land on the moon – the first to land near the lunar south pole region. The Pragyaan rover travelled a distance of 100 metres, transmitting images and data back to Earth. It confirmed the presence of sulphur, iron, oxygen and other elements on the moon.