Chandrayaan-2 orbiter healthy in lunar orbit: ISRO official

This screen grab taken from a live webcast by Indian Space Research Organisation

This screen grab taken from a live webcast by Indian Space Research Organisation

A soft landing on another planetary body - a feat achieved by just three other countries so far - would be a huge technological achievement for Isro and India's space ambitions, writes science writer Pallava Bagla.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday expressed solidarity with ISRO scientists after Chandrayaan-2's Vikram module lost communication with the ground station during the powered descent leading to huge disappointment.

However footage illustrating the spacecraft's descent trajectory stopped just short of reaching surface. After minutes of silence, ISRO chairman K Sivan announced that communications with the lander had been lost.

"Vikram lander descend was normal and as planned till 2.1 km. Subsequently, communication from Lander to the ground stations was lost", an ISRO official said.

Prime minister Narendra Modi, who was present at the Isro control centre, offered words of support to scientists before leaving the tracking centre.

Israel's first-ever lunar lander, dubbed Beresheet, crashed and burned during the landing attempt back in April.

But it will be the first to launch a mission to the unexplored lunar South Pole.

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The ISRO undertook a previous mission, Chandrayaan 1, to orbit the Moon in 2008.

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. After pulling off the 3.84 kilometre-voyage, India's second mission to the Moon is now bound straight for its destination.

The lander was supposed to release a small solar-powered rover equipped with instruments to collect and analyze the moon's 4-billion-year-old soil. Silence filled mission control.

The orbiter carries eight scientific payloads for mapping the lunar surface and study the exosphere (outer atmosphere) of the Moon. Vikram houses the six-wheeled rover Pragyaan that will explore the lunar surface for around 14 Earth days. Both were expected to shutdown come nightfall at the moon's south pole, because they weren't built to withstand to frigid temperatures of the lunar night.

Pragyan's mission will begin anytime between 5:30 am and 6:30 am.

The lander was equipped with a seismometer and a laser retroreflector, while the rover carried an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and laser induced breakdown spectroscope.

Scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the origins of the deposits and determine whether it might be possible to mine them to obtain water for future space missions, Timothy Swindle, director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson told NBC news.

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