NASA has been unable to locate a lost lunar lander launched from India two months ago – but says it could simply be “hiding in a shadow”.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lost touch with the Vikram lander as it approached the moon’s south pole earlier this month, and it was not clear whether it had crashed or landed.
NASA released this image of part of the intended Vikram landing site
The US agency stepped in to help find Vikram and has now released photos around its targeted landing site from 17 September.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter scanned more than 92 miles of the area where the lander was supposed to touch down, but has not found it.
However, NASA said it was dusk when it took the photos, with large shadows “covering much of the terrain”, and that it “is possible that the Vikram lander is hiding in a shadow”.
The orbiter is due to pass over the site again in October, when the space agency expects more favourable lighting might reveal more.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission, which has cost roughly $140m (£114m), was intended to study the permanently shadowed moon craters for signs of water, confirmed by the Chandrayaan-1 mission 11 years ago.
It lifted off on 22 July from the Satish Dhawan space centre, in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, and then spent several weeks making its way to the moon.
On 2 September, Vikrum separated from the orbiter and the lander began a series of braking manoeuvres to lower its orbit and ready itself for landing. It was scheduled to touch down on 6 September.
Indian Space Research Organisation employees watched the live broadcast as they lost touch with the moon lander
Had India successfully landed the craft it would be just the fourth nation to land a vessel on the moon’s surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there.
Only the US, the former Soviet Union and China have successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon.