It looks like just a barren moonscape of craters, but somewhere in this image is a hunk of metal and electronics that carried a country's hopes of lunar science.
The image was captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) on Sept. 17 as it flew over the targeted landing site of India's Chandrayaan-2 mission. That project's lander, dubbed Vikram, fell silent in the final minutes of its touchdown procedure on Sept. 6. The India Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which oversees the mission, spent two weeks trying to establish communications with the lander.
ISRO has said it was able to spot the lander with the orbiter component of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, but the agency has not released those photographs. NASA wanted to help the effort, but LRO's angle on the scene was suboptimal during its first flyover of the targeted landing site after the attempt.
The Vikram lander was targeting a patch of high ground between two craters called Simpelius N and Manzinus C. The last tracking data the lander sent back to Earth before falling silent suggested that the robot was off course, and according to a NASA statement, the lander's location is still uncertain.
LRO has passed over the region only once since the landing attempt, and at the time, the sun was setting, casting stark shadows that imaging specialists knew in advance could prevent the orbiter from spotting Vikram. The NASA mission will fly over the targeted landing site again next month, when its chances of spotting the lander will be more favorable.
Despite the silence from Vikram and ISRO's reticence to release images of the lander, the agency holds that the overall Chandrayaan-2 mission is a success, meeting between 90% and 95% of its objectives. The orbiter was designed to spend a year circling the moon from pole to pole.
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