NASA fails to find India’s lost lunar lander ‘Vikram’

NASA fails to find Indian moon lander ‘Vikram’ and releases images of empty landing site three weeks after it crashed into the lunar surface

  • India’s moon lander failed to complete its mission on  September 6
  • It is thought to be in one piece but efforts to find it by NASA have failed  
  • NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter scanned the intended landing site 
  • Looked at more than 92 miles of the area where Vikram was supposed to be 

NASA has failed to spot the remnants of India’s doomed moon lander, Vikram, despite desperate attempts to locate the craft at its intended landing site.

NASA was one of the last hopes for the mission and the Indian space agency (ISRO) as they scrabble to reestablish connection with the craft.

Vikram was part of India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission which had hoped to make history and turn India into just the fourth nation to successfully land on the moon.  

India had intended to follow in the footsteps of space behemoths China, the US and the USSR but instead fell to the same disappointing demise as Israel, who also failed in their aim of landing on the moon earlier this year.  

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 NASA has revealed that it has failed to spot the location of India’s doomed moon lander Vikram despite desperate attempts to locate the craft at its intended landing site

Pictured, a NASA image of the targeted landing site of India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander, Vikram, which the space agency has said they have not been able to spot


Chandrayaan-2 is the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) second lunar probe. It is comprised of three modules, an Orbiter, a Lander called Vikram, and a Rover called Pragyan.

The Orbiter has a terrain mapping camera to help prepare 3D maps of the moon’s surface, an X-ray spectrometer looking for major elements including titanium and sodium, and another high resolution camera to help the other modules land safely.

Vikram has an instrument to detect seismic activity on the moon, and a thermal probe that will examine the thermal conductivity of the lunar surface.

Pragyan has an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer that examines the elemental composition of the surface and a laser induced breakdown spectroscope which looks at the abundance of various elements nearby.

The entire mission has cost around 10 billion rupees (£120million).

NASA said in a tweet: ‘Our @LRO_NASA mission imaged the targeted landing site of India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander, Vikram. 

‘The images were taken at dusk, and the team was not able to locate the lander. 

‘More images will be taken in October during a flyby in favorable lighting.’ 

On September 8, the Press Trust of India reported that the ISRO had located the lander but is yet to see direct visual evidence of its position. 

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter scanned more than 92 miles of the area where Vikram was supposed to touch down, in hope of spotting the lander. 

However, NASA did caveat its sombre announcement by saying that it was dusk when it took the photos on September 17 and Vikram could be hidden in shadow. 

The orbiter is due to pass over the site again in October, when the space agency expects more favourable lighting might reveal Vikram’s resting place. 

The Indian mission was an attempt to look at permanently shadowed moon craters for signs of water, following its Chandrayaan-1 launch in 2008.  

Officials previously confirmed it is still in one piece and is currently lying on the lunar surface in a tilted position but communication had not been reestablished. 

The $140 million mission’s lander failed in its attempt to reach the surface of the moon just 2.1km (1.3 miles) from the ground. 

An official told the Press Trust of India today: ‘It had a hard-landing very close to the planned (touch-down) site as per the images sent by the on-board camera of the orbiter. The lander is there as a single piece, not broken into pieces. It’s in a tilted position.

‘We are making all-out efforts to see whether communication can be re-established with the lander.’   

Vikram was supposed to land on a high plain between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, which are around 70° south.

From there, the six-wheeled rover Pragyan would spend two weeks exploring an uncharted region and carrying out topographical studies, mineralogical analyses and other experiments in a bid to help the world gain a better understanding of the moon’s origins.

Chandrayaan-2, was intended to study permanently shadowed moon craters that contain water deposits, which was confirmed by the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008. 

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

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

The Vikram lander separated from the mission’s orbiter on September 2 and began a series of braking manoeuvres to lower its orbit and ready itself for landing.   

There’s now much uncertainty as to what actually happened as Vikram got closer to the surface. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was filmed consoling visibly distraught ISRO staff after they lost contact with the lander on Friday night.

In a subsequent formal address to the scientists and the nation, he hinted that the lander might have travelled at a higher-than-expected speed and crash landed on the moon. 

India’s Moon mission: Chandrayaan-2 was intended to be a ground-breaking mission to the south pole of the moon and hoped to land on a high plain between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, which are around 70° south

Israel attempted to land on the moon earlier this year but the mission ended in disaster when the Beresheet spacecraft fell into an uncontrolled descent

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) says it plans to analyse the data to find out what went wrong.   

Prime Minister Modi, who was present at the ISRO centre, told scientists : ‘There are ups and downs in life … What you have accomplished is no small achievement.’   

He added: ‘If historians some day write about today’s incident, they will certainly say that inspired by our romantic description of the moon throughout life, Chandrayaan, in the last leg of the journey, rushed to embrace the moon.’

Modi said that though India ‘came very close’ it needs to ‘cover more ground’ in the times to come. ‘I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey.’ 

‘We are full of confidence that when it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come,’ Modi said.

Sivan had earlier described the final moments of the landing mission as ’15 minutes of terror,’ due to the complexities involved with lunar gravity, terrain and dust. 

ISRO also sent an orbiter to space with the mission, which will continue to make observations around the moon.    

They hoped to release a rover after the landing, which would then spend a fortnight – a single day in moon time – exploring.  

The lander was named Vikram after the father of India’s space program, Vikram Sarabhai. 


Chandrayaan-1 was India’s first lunar orbiter, launched in 2008.  

The £49 million ($69 million) mission was launched amid national euphoria, putting India in the Asian space race alongside rival China and reinforcing its claim to be considered a global power.

A vehicle landed on the moon a month later and sent back images of the lunar surface.

In 2009 India terminated the mission a year earlier than planned, after scientists lost all contact with their unmanned orbiting spacecraft. 

Chandrayaan-1 (pictured) was India’s first lunar orbiter, launched in 2008. The £49 million ($69 million) mission was launched amid national euphoria

A crucial sensor in the main craft malfunctioned in July experts believe.

The satellite is believed to have crashed into the moon’s surface.

‘Our efforts to establish contact have failed. The mission has been terminated,’ said S Satish, from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) at the time.

‘There was no point continuing with the mission.’  

Named Chandrayaan-2, the vehicle will take between one and two months to reach orbit and once the rover reaches the surface it will explore the area around the south pole.

It is the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) second lunar probe. 

Weighing nearly 3,300kg (7,300lbs), the spacecraft will take off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, off India’s southwest coast. 

It is now set for launch in January 2019.  

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