With the dust now settled around the seemingly tragic and melodramatic episode of India’s failed attempt to put a lander and a rover on the surface of the moon, here is a fact based account of what indeed has the rest of the mission achieved, in particular the orbiter which has successfully lodged itself to orbit the moon. In this context, it is worth reading my colleague Salil Desai’s blog – Technology, for more than technology’s sake
“The orbiter, connected with the Indian Deep Space Network – a collection of antennas and relays to support its interplanetary missions – is absolutely packed with top-notch tech. Here’s a taste of what that little orbiter will be able to accomplish as it spins around the moon in glorious solitude.
–      Its Terrain Mapping Camera 2, or TMC 2, will be able to develop a detailed cartography of the lunar surface to a fairly decent resolution. This will help create 3D maps of the surface of the moon’s most massive scar, full of elusive, oft-hidden topographies and locked up supplies of water ice.
–      This will be aided by a radar system, one that will be capable of peering into regions of the moon that are perpetually in shadow. The radar will bounce off and warp inside the surface-level formations, and scientists will be able to use these perturbations to calculate the various thicknesses of said formations, including that all-important water ice.
–      The devil is in the details, which is why the infrared spectrometer instrument will come in handy. Using the characteristics of the light being emitted by the rocks lingering at the surface, this piece of kit will be able to identify a range of mineral species, thereby improving our understanding of the moon’s geology and how its south polar region varies from, say, the near side regions sampled by the Apollo missions around half a century earlier.
–      It’s not all about the moon. The orbiter’s X-ray Monitor will look at the fury being emitted by the Sun and its enigmatic, wisp-like corona, in effect allowing scientists to see how much solar radiation makes it to the moon, and how it changes along its journey.
Originally designed to last a year, the orbiters flawless insertion into a stable lunar ballet is now reportedly allowing it to function for almost seven years. Short of a rogue cometary or asteroidal fragment slamming into the orbiter, then, these instruments – and several others – will keep working, providing scientists all over the world with game-changing data until potentially sometime in 2026.
The fact that ISRO managed to place it there is an enormously laudable feat, and act of technical wizardry so immediately rewarding that it almost doesn’t matter that Vikram toppled over and went silent. It is, of course, hugely disappointing that Vikram looks to be unrecoverable. The science it and its Pragyan rover could have carried out in one of the geologically strangest and increasingly strategic parts of the Moon would have been a thrill to see. But, you know, space is hard.
Don’t let that crash-landing get you down, though; the moon still has a brand-new robotic friend, one that will, in time, reveal more of its secrets than anyone can possibly imagine.”

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