Vikram began its descent at 20:08:03 UTC, 6 September 2019 and was scheduled to land on the Moon at around 20:23 UTC. The descent and soft-landing were to be performed by the on-board computers on Vikram, with mission control unable to make corrections. The initial descent was considered within mission parameters, passing critical braking procedures as expected, but the lander's trajectory began to deviate at about 2.1 km (1.3 mi) above the surface. The final telemetry readings during ISRO's live-stream show that Vikram's final vertical velocity was 58 m/s (210 km/h) at 330 m (1,080 ft) above the surface, which a number of experts noted, would have been too fast for the lunar lander to make a successful landing. Initial reports suggesting a crash were confirmed by ISRO chairman K. Sivan, stating that "it must have been a hard landing". However, it contradicted initial claims from anonymous ISRO officials that the lander was intact and lying in a tilted position.
Radio transmissions from the lander were tracked during descent by analysts using a 25 m (82 ft) radio telescope owned by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy. Analysis of the doppler data suggests that the loss of signal coincided with the lander impacting the lunar surface at a velocity of nearly 50 m/s (180 km/h) (as opposed to an ideal 2 m/s (7.2 km/h) touchdown velocity). The powered descent was also observed by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) using its Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project instrument to study changes in the lunar exosphere due to exhaust gases from the lander's engines. K. Sivan, tasked senior scientist Prem Shanker Goel to head the Failure Analysis Committee to look into the causes of the failure.
Both ISRO and NASA attempted to communicate with the lander for about two weeks before the lunar night set in, while NASA's LRO flew over on 17 September 2019 and acquired some images of the intended landing zone. However, the region was near dusk, causing poor lighting for optical imaging. NASA's LRO images, showing no sight of the lander, were released on 26 September 2019. The LRO flew over again on 14 October 2019 under more favorable lighting conditions, but was unable to locate it. The LRO performed a third flyover on 10 November 2019.
On 16 November 2019, the Failure Analysis Committee released its report to the Space Commission, concluding that the crash was caused by a software glitch. Phase One of descent from an altitude of 30 km to 7.4 km above the Moon's surface went as intended with velocity being reduced from 1683 m/s to 146 m/s. But velocity during the second phase of descent was more than expected. This deviation from nominal velocity reduction was beyond the designed parameters of on-board software, causing Vikram to land hard, though it managed to impact relatively near the intended landing site. The complete findings have not been made public.
Vikram's impact site was located atby the LROC team after receiving helpful input from Shanmuga Subramanian, a volunteer from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, who located debris from the spacecraft in pictures released by NASA. While initially estimated to be within 500 m (1,600 ft) of the intended landing site, best-guess estimates from satellite imagery indicate initial impact about 600 m away. The spacecraft shattered upon impact, with debris scattered over almost two dozen locations in an area spanning kilometres.
The orbiter part of the mission, with eight scientific instruments, remains operational, and will continue its seven-year mission to study the Moon.