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Hopes fade for India’s moon lander after it fails to ‘wake up’ following lunar night

On 2 September, the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover were put into ‘sleep mode’ to protect their electrical components during the brutal two-week night

Hopes are fading for the “re-awakening” of India’s moon lander after Indian scientists were unable to make communication with the spacecraft since it went into shutdown mode to survive the freezing lunar night conditions.

India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission made a historic landing on the south pole of the moon in August, after a 40-day journey, and the rover had spent over a week collecting data from the lunar surface.

On 2 September, the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover had been put into “sleep mode” into order to hibernate and protect the electrical components during the brutal conditions of a lunar night, which lasts for two weeks and sees temperatures on the moon drop to -250 degrees celsius.

Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had said they were confident that the spacecraft could survive the extreme conditions and that it would reawaken about 22 September, when it would again be bathed in sunlight and solar panels could re-charge its batteries.

However, ISRO scientists have been unable to make contact with the robots since and said that “hopes are dimming” for their revival. According to scientists there is around a 50% chance that the devices could endure the freezing temperatures.

“Efforts to establish communication with the Vikram lander and Pragyaan rover will continue,” said ISRO on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday, but they have made no official announcements since then.

ISRO said they would continue efforts to make contact with the spacecraft until 30 September, when the next lunar sunset is scheduled.

Before putting the lander and rover into sleep mode, scientists at ISRO had been keen to emphasise that the Chandrayaan-3 mission had already been a major success and achieved its main objectives. “If Vikram and Pragyaan do not wake up they will stay on the moon as India’s lunar ambassador,” they said.

The Chandrayaan-3 mission made India the first country to reach the lunar south polar region, and only the fourth country to land on the moon, affirming its position as a world leader in space exploration. The landing was watched by millions of people and the mission had been a huge source of national pride, with prime minister Modi haling it as “a victory cry of a new India.”

Over its week exploring the moon’s surface, the Pragyaan rover was tasked with what ISRO described as “the pursuit of lunar secrets”. It travelled a distance of 100m, transmitting images and data back to Earth, and confirmed the presence of sulphur, iron and oxygen and other elements on the moon.

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