India loses communication with its unmanned moon lander

Indian Space Research Organization employees react as they listen to an announcement Saturday by the organizations’s chief, Kailasavadivoo Sivan, at its Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network facility in Bangalore, India. India’s space agency says it has lost communication with its unmanned landing module which was to make a touchdown on the moon’s south pole. Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

NEW DELHI — India’s space agency said it lost touch Saturday with its Vikram lunar lander as it aimed to land on the south pole of the moon and deploy a rover to search for signs of water.

The space agency was analyzing data as it worked to determine what had happened.

“Communications from lander to ground station was lost,” said Kailasavadivoo Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation. “The data is being analysed.”

A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third nation to operate a robotic rover there.

The roughly $140 million mission, known as Chandrayaan-2, was intended to study permanently shadowed moon craters that are thought to contain water deposits that were confirmed by the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008.

Before the mishap, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at the space center in Bengaluru to witness the planned landing in the early hours of Saturday and congratulate scientists who were part of the mission.

The space agency’s chairman had earlier called Chandrayaan-2 the “most complex mission ever” undertaken by the space agency.

The mission lifted off July 22 from the Satish Dhawan space centre, in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

After its launch, Chandrayaan-2 spent several weeks making its way to the moon, ultimately entering lunar orbit on Aug 20.

On Monday, Vikram separated from the mission’s orbiter, and the lander began a series of braking maneuvers to lower its orbit and ready itself for landing.