More than a third of attempts to land there have failed. Space is hard. This was the takeaway on September 7, when the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lost contact with its Vikram Moon Lander while trying to land at the South Pole of the Moon.
India was ready to become the fourth nation ever to succeed on the moon regolith, in a place no other country had ever reached. Although the space agency is still trying to revive communication with Vikram, the unfortunate landing sequence appeared to be a painful echo of the situation in which Beresheet, a private Israeli Lander robot, was advised to become our natural satellite.
All this is a reminder that despite the fact that humans often landed on the moon during the Apollo missions half a century ago, it remains a tough business. Of the 30 soft landings by space agencies and corporations around the world, more than a third have failed, tweeted the space journalist Lisa Grossman.
But why exactly is it so hard to land on the moon? No event is responsible for the many failed attempts, said aerospace engineer Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Cosby, Missouri, to Live Science.
To land on the moon, “so many things have to happen in exactly the right order,” she said. “If one of them does not, the trouble starts.” First, it’s about getting into the lunar orbit, which is no small thing. The Saturn V vehicle of the Apollo program was filled with enough fuel to shoot astronauts to the moon in just three days.
To save on fuel costs, ISRO’s recent mission, Chandrayaan-2, which carried Vikram, took a much more cumbersome journey and took more than a month to reach the moon. In orbit, the spacecraft passes through NASA’s Deep Space Network, which consists of three facilities in different parts of the world, filled with constantly listening parabolic dishes that stay in contact with distant robot probes in space, contact Earth.
A communication error could have been one of the reasons for Vikram’s problems as the agency lost contact with the lander when he was only 2 kilometers above the lunar surface. There is little room for error as a probe screams at rocket-like speeds to its landing pad. An erroneous data transmission tool that led to a complete engine stoppage appears to have occurred in Israel’s Beresheet Lander on April 11, according to The Times of Israel.
On Earth, engineers can rely on GPS to run autonomous vehicles, but there are no equivalent systems on other celestial bodies, said Dwyer Cianciolo, “If you’re traveling fast and need to slow down in a vacuum where you have very fewHaving information is difficult, no matter who you are and what you want to do, “she added.
NASA is currently working with commercial companies that want to deliver robots to the moon in the coming years. These future lunar navigators need to be able to trust their sensors, said Dwyer Cianciolo.
For this reason, the agency designs instruments that can sit on the chassis of a vehicle to search the terrain for stones, craters and other hazards outside the world, and to make course corrections that could be used for both private spacecraft and future NASA missions, added her. This technology will be tested in the descent sequence of NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover, which will launch next year and is expected to land on the Red Planet in February 2021.
Almost all failed moon missions have been canceled, possibly suggesting that it is useful to have a person at the helm when problems arise. During the Apollo Days, human eyes and reflexes made for a successful landing.
After discovering rocky terrain at his designated landing site, Neil Armstrong was known to take control of the Apollo 11 descent vehicle and flew in search of a safer touchdown point. With their background as experimental test pilots, astronauts would have expected some degree of control in those days, Dwyer Cianciolo said, “We’re accepting autonomy a little more nowadays,” she added, saying that engineers would like to get to a point whereFuture human researchers can rely on such systems to travel more safely from and to the lunar surface. China’s Chang’e-4 probe, which landed on the moon in the summer and deployed the Yutu 2 rover, offers some comfort to those worried about the difficulty of getting to the moon.
Indian engineers can console themselves that their Chandrayaan 2 orbiter is still working and working scientifically, and that their next attempt may be more successful. My heart has risen because you know how much work and time has gone into it, “Dwyer Cianciolo said,” but we’re in a business where persistence pays off, so I’m confident. ”