NEW DELHI: After almost three months of frantic search for the Vikram lander by space scientists and space agencies from across the world, it was a techie from Chennai who found
the debris of Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander
on Moon’s south pole by using US space agency Nasa images.
Shanmuga Subramanian (Shan), a mechanical engineer and a computer programmer who works as a technical architect at engineering company Lennox India Technology Centre in Chennai, has made India’s greatest space discovery of the lander, which had made a hard-landing on Moon’s surface during a landing attempt on September 7, 2019.
Shanmuga, who hails from Madurai and had earlier worked for Cognizant as a programme analyst, used lunar images from Nasa’s Moon’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured on different dates (September 17, October 14, 15 and November 11) and studied them for weeks to locate the debris of the lander.
After making the discovery, Shanmuga wrote to Nasa informing it about his findings for which the US space agency took some time to confirm it. Authenticating his discovery finally, Nasa’s deputy project scientist (LRO mission) John Keller wrote to him, “Thank you for your email informing us of your discovery of debris from the Vikram lander. The LROC team confirmed that the location does exhibit changes in images taken before and after the date of the landing. Using the information, the LROC team did additional searches in this area and located the site of the primary impact as well as other debris around the impact location and has announced the sighting on the Nasa and ASU pages where you have been given credit for your observation.”
Wishing Shanmuga for his hard work, Keller further wrote, “Congratulations for what I am sure was a lot of time and effort on your part. We apologise for the delay in getting back to you as we needed to be certain of our interpretation as well as making sure that all stakeholders had an opportunity to comment before we could announce the results”.
Later, confirming news to the world, Nasa tweeted: “The Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander has been found by our NasaMoon mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. See the first mosaic of the impact site.” An image of Moon with blue and green dots show the impact point of Vikram and an associated debris field.
The #Chandrayaan2 Vikram lander has been found by our @NASAMoon mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. See the… https://t.co/niHBT1STV2
— NASA (@NASA) 1575318157000
“Green dots indicate spacecraft debris. Blue dots locate disturbed soil, likely where small bits of the spacecraft churned up the regolith (moon soil). “S” indicates debris identified by Shanmuga Subramanian,” the Nasa statement read. The debris, first located by Shanmuga, is about 750 metre northwest of the crash site.
Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and Nasa have been looking for the Vikram lander since September 7. In fact, Nasa had used its deep space network antennas in California, Madrid and Canberra to send signals to the Vikram lander with the hope that it would reflect the signals if the lander’s systems were working but all the US space agency’s efforts went in vain. Finally, it used its orbiter LRO, circling around the Moon, to take images of the south pole region to locate the lander. Isro, too, has been using Chandrayaan-2’s functional orbiter, circling Moon at 100km altitude, to scan the landing zone to look for the lander.
Recently, in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, Union minister for department of space Jitendra Singh explained the reason for the Vikram’s hardlanding. He said, “During the second phase of descent (of lander), the reduction in velocity was more than the designed value. Due to this deviation, the initial conditions at the start of the fine braking phase were beyond the designed parameters. As a result, Vikram hard-landed within 500 metres of the designated landing site.”