ISRO Chief: We Found Vikram Rover First, Not NASA

This image shows the Vikram Lander impact point and associated debris field. Green dots indicate spacecraft debris (confirmed or likely). Blue dots locate disturbed soil, likely where small bits of the spacecraft churned up the regolith. “S” indicates debris identified by Shanmuga Subramanian. This portion of the Narrow Angle Camera mosaic was made from images M1328074531L/R and M1328081572L/R acquired Nov. 11. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

ISRO Chairman K Sivan is disputing that idea that NASA was the first to positively identified the wreckage of India’s Vikram lunar lander after its location was discovered by Indian amateur astronomer Shanmuga Subramanium.

Outlook India reports:

“Our own orbiter had located Vikram Lander, we had already declared that on our website, you can go back and see,” said Sivan while speaking to reporters on Tuesday….

On ISRO’s website, a statement dated September 10 says, “Vikram lander has been located by the orbiter of Chandrayaan-2, but no communication with it yet. All possible efforts are being made to establish communication with lander.”

The comments came after NASA released the first images showing the crash site on Tuesday. Three pictures taken by the American space agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show an impact site and debris scattered across the surface.

Vikram crashed on Sept. 7 while attempting India’s first landing on the moon. The lander and its Pragyan rover were intended to return data from six instruments for 14 days before they froze up as the lunar night arrived.

Before and after images show the Vikram impact point. Changes to the surface are subtle and are more easily seen in the ratio image presented above. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

Following the loss, Silvan said Chandrayaan-2 orbiter that delivered Vikram to the moon had obtained a thermal image of the lander on the surface. He said the vehicle suffered a hard landing, and that ISRO did not know what damage it had suffered.

ISRO did not release the thermal image to the public. Nor did it publish the coordinates of the crash site. The space agency has not released an subsequent images of Vikram that might have been taken by the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter that delivered Vikram to the moon.

This before and after image ratio highlights changes to the surface; the impact point is near center of the image and stands out due the dark rays and bright outer halo. Note the dark streak and debris about 100 meters to the SSE of the impact point. Diagonal straight lines are uncorrected background artifacts. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University)

The Indian space agency continued to send signals to Vikram for two weeks in hopes that enough of the lander had survived to communicate. But, nothing was received back.

Since the failed landing, LRO has flown over the area three times taking pictures. NASA officials scoured the images, but they were unable to identify where Vikram had gone down.

Subramanium, a Chennai-based engineer and space enthusiast, said he spent 40 hours scouring publicly-released LRO imagery before identifying debris from Vikram. He then contacted the LRO team, which was able to confirm his finding.

Three images that NASA released on Tuesday show a main impact site with debris and disturbed soil scattered all around it. The images are not detailed enough to show the condition of the debris at the impact site.

Indian media report that an ISRO review board has concluded that a software glitch caused Vikram to veer off course and crash when it was 500 meters from the surface. The board’s report has not been publicly released.