A puzzle that had stymied the top brains of space exploration was solved by the hard work of software engineer and app developer Shanmuga (Shan) Subramanian. The software engineer, who hails from Chennai, was able to achieve what experts from ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) and the US space agency NASA had been attempting to accomplish for months together. With no formal background training and no required equipment, Shan aided NASA to discover the remains of the Vikram lander, which was part of India’s Chandraayan 2 mission, after following up on his passion of studying satellite images. (https://go.nasa.gov/34SlDsc)
India launched its Chandrayaan-2 mission in July 2019 (https://bit.ly/366k1ez) with an aim to become the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the orbit of the moon by September 7th. This mission was one of the most complex missions undertaken by ISRO. If successful, this achievement would have been a huge step for the nation’s space ambitions and would pave the way for future missions and to send astronauts to space. However, engineers lost contact with the rover during its descent, after which the government announced that it had ‘hard-landed’ on the moon’s surface.
NASA recorded a statement to the press, in which they stated, “Shan contacted the LRO project with a positive identification of debris. After receiving this tip, the LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images.”
Shan stated to several news agencies that he found what he thought might be debris from the lander after poring over images of the moon’s surface for six to seven hours a day. He emailed his findings to NASA in October. The rover had gone missing in action on September 7th, during the final stages of the mission.
Via a tweet on his feed to the NASA space agency on October 3, the 33-year-old techie posted a comparison of two pictures of the landing site. One was from December 2017 and the other was from after the lander lost contact with ISRO. Shan pointed out that no white dot was seen in the previous picture at the same spot from December 2017 which indicated that the white dot on the left image could be the debris of the Vikram lander. He even pointed out to the NASA experts that the Vikram lander would only be visible as a dot since the new image was 1.25m per pixel. He was able to provide them with the coordinates of the crash site and presented evidence of the ejecta that was possibly thrown out of the lander.
Twitter exploded into appreciation for the young techie who was able to accomplish this task without having any equipment at his disposal. This shows us the importance of space technology. Space technology is technology developed by space science to be used in spaceflights, satellites, or space exploration. Space technology includes spacecraft, satellites, space stations, and support infrastructure, equipment, and procedures.
Every space mission has a communication system in place to receive commands and other information that is sent from Earth and to return scientific data from space to Earth. Numerous space missions go missing or never to earth. Thus, post launch, the spacecraft’s communication system is the only means of interaction. Additionally, any problems with the spacecraft can only be diagnosed, repaired, or mitigated through the communications system. Without a reliable, effective and efficient communication system, a successful mission would be impossible.
Space Tech is a burgeoning field with more and more amateurs like Shan getting involved. The computing power that the average person has on their phone or laptop is itself able to work with large images and do basic space tech calculations. WhiteHat Jr curriculum research is heavily invested in building space tech into our curriculum for kids.