Chandrayaan-3: India’s historic Moon mission lifts off successfully
India is giving the Moon landing another shot! After a setback in 2019, India has successfully lift off the Chandrayaan-3 mission on July 14 at 5 A.M. EDT to try and make history by landing on the Moon successfully. The successful launch has sparked excitement and interest worldwide. Expectations and hopes run high for a successful touchdown as the mission embarks on its journey to the Moon.
Read this blog to learn more about the remarkable achievement of India in its space exploration journey.
Chandrayaan-3 Mission: Stepping Closer to the Moon
The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft comprises two parts – the lander Vikram (named in honour of the father of the Indian space program Vikram Sarabhai) and the rover Pragyan (which means wisdom in Sanskrit). Their first attempt, Chandrayaan-2, didn’t completely fail, as it sent an orbiter to the Moon that still gathers useful data.
This time, they have made some important changes to Vikram. It now weighs 1,752 kilograms, almost 280 kilograms heavier than the previous model. This additional weight is related to better safety measures and carries extra fuel. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) wants to be prepared for potential failures, so they have built Vikram with more backup systems, stronger legs to bear the mechanical shock, and a new velocity sensor to navigate better.
Chandrayaan-3’s total weight is 3,900 kilograms, just within the limit of India’s most powerful rocket, GSLV Mk III. ISRO’s chairman, S. Somanath, gives a different approach for Chandrayaan-3 in a press briefing. Instead of designing for success based, they focused on what could go wrong and how to prevent those failures. They carefully considered sensor, engine, algorithm, and calculation failures. Once deployed into a highly elliptical Earth orbit at approximately 170 altitudes by 36,500 kilometres, the Chandrayaan 3 orbiter will guide Vikram towards the Moon.
Upon arrival at the Moon, the craft will be maneuvered into a circular polar orbit, 100 km above the lunar surface.
When Vikram is in position, it will separate from the orbiter and move closer to the Moon. On August 23, it will initiate an independent descent to the lunar surface. This descent will be meticulously orchestrated using its four 800-newton engines and eight thrusters, which will constantly adjust based on input from its sensors regarding distance, velocity, orientation, and imaging.
If everything goes according to plan, India will become the fourth nation to set foot on the moon after the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China.
Lunar Exploration at High Latitude Frontier
Chandrayaan-3 has sights on an unexplored lunar region near the pole at coordinates 69.37 S, 32.35 E. This area is part of a larger rocky highland, chosen by ISRO scientists and engineers using high-resolution images from Chandrayaan-2 and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Vikram will deploy a 26-kilogram rover named Pragyan onto the lunar surface for the mission. The six-wheeled rover is powered by solar energy that will communicate with Earth through the lander. It will explore the landing region for 14 Earth days (equivalent to one lunar day) on a path that balances engineering safety and scientific insights.
Pragyan carries two spectrometers to analyze the mineral composition of soil and rocks in the landing area. One of them is the APXS, a 0.7-kilogram miniaturized X-ray spectrometer with certain design difficulties. It had to be deployable without a traditional robotic arm and required a rare radioactive Curium-244 source from Russia.
Four experiments are being conducted on the Vikram lander itself. The first one is a seismometer that will look for moonquakes to find out more about the internal structure of the Moon. A Langmuir probe and radio occultation experiment will study the lunar plasma caused by charged particles from the Sun. NASA’s contribution includes a retroreflector for laser experiments, aiding in understanding the Earth-Moon system’s gravitational nature.
Additionally, the lander will insert a thermal probe into the lunar soil to measure temperatures at different depths of about 10 centimetres throughout the lunar day. PRL scientist K. Durga Prasad explains that the thermal probe will show how the Sun’s heat moves through the lunar surface. A heater on the probe will warm the soil, helping determine its thermal conductivity, density, and physical properties. This is essential for upcoming advanced lunar exploration.
Durga emphasizes that temperatures influence water presence, stability, and movement on the Moon. The experiment will reveal stability zones for these resources. Future studies and lunar soil extraction will benefit greatly from this data, advancing our understanding of the Moon and supporting future lunar missions.
A NEW ‘MOON RUSH’
Chandrayaan Mission-3 is part of the global excitement of exploring the Moon, particularly its south pole. The upcoming missions of the countries like the U.S. Artemis crewed missions, China’s Chang’e robotic craft, and private ventures have ambitious plans to study the Moon’s resources, like water ice, for future lunar missions.
However, landing on the lunar surface remains challenging as three lunar missions, including Chandrayaan 2, have faced setbacks. India’s hopeful reattempt with Chandrayaan 3 aims to keep the momentum going for lunar exploration.
On increasing investment in lunar missions by India, the senior advisor at the Open Lunar Foundation, Jessy Kate Schingler, commented that this investment will benefit the whole world. India has their lunar soil simulant facility to test hardware for lunar activities, and their next mission is in partnership with Japan to study water ice on the Moon’s south pole with the LUPEX rover. The nature, location, and amount of water ice that is accessible in the top few centimetres of the Arctic surface will be investigated and understood by LUPEX.
On June 21, India signed the Artemis Accords, a US-led framework for lunar governance involving peaceful coordination of global missions. India might boost its lunar exploration program as a signatory by working with other signatory countries.
However, there are challenges. Budget constraints have caused delays in India’s space science missions. While the new space policy encourages lunar resource exploration, India needs to increase its science and technology outputs to fully leverage the Accords and shape the future of lunar exploration. The success landing of Chandrayaan 3 Moon Mission will be crucial in determining India’s future participation in lunar exploration and administration