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NASA lunar probe will help search for India's lost moon lander

Images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter should shed some light on the fate of the silent spacecraft.


Chandrayaan 2's Vikram lander houses a tiny rover which was set to explore the moon.

PIB Media

What exactly happened to India's moon lander? During descent to the lunar surface on Sept. 6, the Vikram lander lost contact with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) mission control and its ultimate fate remains something of a mystery. However, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will fly over Vikram's landing site near the moon's south pole Tuesday and could give us the first look at Vikram's lunar resting place.

It's suspected Vikram impacted the lunar surface and is non-operational but hasn't broken apart. According to ISRO, Vikram has been spotted on the surface of the moon by India's Chandrayaan 2 orbiter, which is now circling the moon. However, the agency has not released any images of the site. 

The first attempt at landing on the moon's south pole has been a particularly emotional ride for the ISRO scientists and for some of my space-loving colleagues, but as NASA's LRO navigates its way across the south pole on Tuesday, it will set its eyes on the ground.

The camera on LRO has three different imagers, enabling it to ogle the moon's surface with exceptional clarity. One wide angle camera and two black-and-white cameras will beam back images to Earth after the pass. NASA releases LRO images publicly with huge multi-terabyte data sets dropping every month at the Planetary Data System

"NASA will share any before and after flyover imagery of the area around the targeted Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander landing site to support analysis by the Indian Space Research Organization," LRO project lead Noah Petro told Spaceflight Now on Thursday.    

Launched in 2009, LRO has been surveying the moon from orbit for over a decade, snapping photos and taking scientific measurements. It has proven itself particularly adept at locating the robotic citizens of the moon, having spotted China's Chang'e 4 spacecraft in January and recently locating the crash site of Israel's Beresheet lander in the Sea of Serenity.