Chandrayaan-3, the latest iteration of India’s ambitious mission to the moon, has successfully landed on the lunar surface — making history after its predecessor failed in 2019.
The landing, which took place at the targeted time of 5:34am PT (6:04pm IST) on Wednesday over a month after the spacecraft’s launch, has made India the fourth nation globally to make a soft landing on the moon, after the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and China, and the first country to land on the lunar south pole, which remains an unexplored area that is anticipated to aid in the understanding of the moon’s atmosphere and pave the way for future space exploration programs.
Earlier this month, Russia attempted to take the achievement from India by launching Luna-25, which was due to make a soft landing on the south pole before India’s Chandrayaan-3. However, the Russian spacecraft crashed into the moon on Saturday after losing contact with Roscosmos, the country’s space agency.
India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), launched the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft through its “Launch Vehicle Mark-III” vehicle on July 14. The launch happened from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in South India’s Sriharikota island.
Chandrayaan-3, the third version of India’s Chandrayaan mission (“moon vehicle” in Sanskrit), aims to demonstrate safe landing and roving on the moon’s surface and conduct on-site scientific experiments. The spacecraft, developed with a budget of less than $75 million, comprises a propulsion module, lander and a rover that collectively carry seven scientific instruments.
To overcome the problems encountered by its predecessor, the lander on the Chandrayaan-3 mission includes improved sensors, software and propulsion systems. ISRO also carried out a number of simulations and additional testing to ensure a higher degree of ruggedness in the lander to achieve a successful landing.
The lander will conduct experiments on seismic vibrations, near-surface plasma, lunar temperature, thermal conductivity, elemental composition, and spectral signatures of Earth.
The U.S. is preparing to launch a crew mission to the lunar south pole, called Artemis III, as soon as 2025. The insights gained from the Chandrayaan-3 mission in India will aid in comprehending the surface before the human landing.
Unlike the lander, the rover of the Chandrayaan-3 is identical to that of the Chandrayaan-2. The mission life of the lander and rover will be of one lunar day — equivalent to 14 days on Earth.
Chandrayaan-3 comes over 14 years after India launched its first moon landing mission in 2008, which found evidence of water molecules in the lunar atmosphere.
Although the lander-rover of Chandrayaan-2 crashed during touchdown, its orbiter is still in orbit and continuing its study of the moon. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter was instrumental in locating the landing spot for the Chandrayaan-3 lander and will continue to assist in sending signals to Earth for communication with the lander.
Over the past few years, India has developed a strong interest in space exploration. With the help of over a hundred space tech startups, the South Asian nation has made significant progress in developing solutions such as launch vehicles, satellites, and hyperspectral earth imaging. New Delhi recently introduced a space policy to facilitate collaboration between private players and government bodies.
ISRO has also been working on a list of missions other than Chandrayaan-3. These include the long-planned human space flight mission Gaganyaan and the solar observatory project Aditya L1 to probe the sun.
In June, India signed NASA’s Artemis Accords to partner with participating nations on space exploration. NASA is also set to provide advanced training to Indian astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and send them to the International Space Station next year. Further, ISRO and NASA are also working closely to launch a low-Earth observatory (LEO) in 2024 to map the entire planet in 12 days and offer consistent data for analyzing alterations in Earth’s ecosystems, ice mass, vegetation biomass, sea level, and natural disasters and hazards.
More to follow…