India’s space agency ISRO launches its latest lunar mission, armed with ‘advanced technologies’ to overcome past challenges. With optimized payload configurations and upgraded lander capabilities, the mission sets its sights on achieving a successful touchdown on the moon’s South Pole, paving the way for future lunar exploration
By Elizabeth Howell
Chandrayaan-3, the highly anticipated lunar mission, embarked on its journey to the moon with a successful launch on July 14, 2023. The historic event took place at 5:05 a.m. EDT (0905 GMT or 2:35 p.m. local time on July 14) from the prestigious Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India. The spacecraft was lifted atop the mighty medium-lift Launch Vehicle Mark-III (LVM3) rocket, showcasing India’s prowess in the field of space exploration. Chandrayaan-3: India’s Space Ambitions Soar High
The mission, a significant endeavor by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), traces its roots back to the early days of space exploration. ISRO’s predecessor agency was established in 1962, and the first Indian rocket launch occurred in 1963. Eventually, ISRO was officially founded in 1969, solidifying India’s commitment to advancing its space program.
Just before the scheduled launch of Chandrayaan-3 in June 2023, India made another significant move by joining the NASA-led Artemis Accords. This accord aims to foster peaceful collaboration in human and robotic exploration of the moon. Notably, the data collected from Chandrayaan-3’s mission may also prove valuable for future Artemis human landings, a development welcomed by the White House.
The ambitious Chandrayaan-3 mission comes with an estimated cost of approximately $77 million USD, as reported by the Times of India. Its main objectives revolve around safely landing on the lunar surface, demonstrating rover operations, and conducting vital scientific experiments on-site. According to the official website, the anticipated landing is expected to take place around August 23 or August 24, as noted in a separate article by the Times of India.
To achieve these objectives, the mission calls for a propulsion module that will ferry the lander and rover to the south pole of the moon. This module will enter lunar orbit and maneuver into a circular path about 60 miles (100 km) above the moon’s surface. The lander will then separate from the module and undertake a delicate soft landing on the lunar terrain.
Notably, the spacecraft package, including the rover, lander, and propulsion module, incorporates advanced technologies to fulfill the mission goals. Among these technologies are hazard detection and avoidance capabilities on the rover, a landing leg mechanism for a gentle touchdown, and altimeters and velocity instruments to estimate altitude and speed above the moon.
Divided into different segments, the science on the Chandrayaan-3 mission will be carried out by the lander, rover, and propulsion module payload. The lander, described as box-shaped with four landing legs and thrusters, will include instruments like Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) for thermal conductivity measurements, the Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) to detect moonquakes, and a Langmuir Probe to estimate plasma density in the moon’s environment. Additionally, a Laser Retroreflector Array from NASA will enable distance measurements using laser ranging.
The rover, which is mounted on a six-wheel rocker-bogie wheel drive assembly, will play a crucial role in conducting experiments on the lunar surface. It will utilize the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) to analyze elements in the lunar soil and rocks and the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) to study the chemical composition of the moon’s surface.
The propulsion module, acting as a crucial bridge between Earth and the moon, will carry out the Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) investigation, aiding in exoplanet searches by analyzing the polarization of light reflected by Earth.
Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2 were India’s first and second lunar missions, respectively. Chandrayaan-1 achieved a significant milestone by detecting evidence of water ice on the moon, while Chandrayaan-2 faced challenges during its landing phase, resulting in the loss of the Vikram lander. However, the orbiter from Chandrayaan-2 continues to function effectively, capturing high-definition images of the lunar surface and advancing lunar exploration.
Learning from the experiences of Chandrayaan-2, ISRO has fine-tuned the Chandrayaan-3 mission to address past challenges. The mission has optimized payload configurations, improved lander capabilities, and will solely rely on Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter for communications to Earth. Moreover, the lander of Chandrayaan-3 features key upgrades, including two robust “lander hazard detection and avoidance cameras” to ensure a smoother descent on the lunar surface.
With Chandrayaan-3 now on its path to the moon, the world eagerly awaits the data and discoveries that this mission will bring, further enriching our understanding of Earth’s celestial neighbor and paving the way for future lunar explorations.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of this newspaper
India’s Chandrayaan-3 sets off for the moon, leaving behind lessons from Chandrayaan-2. ISRO’s approach includes simplified mission design and an emphasis on the propulsion module’s critical role. As the spacecraft ventures toward lunar soil, it carries the hopes of a nation and the scientific community, eager for new lunar revelations