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India is all set to launch Chandrayaan-3: a mission to the Moon – all you need to know

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India is all set to launch Chandrayaan-3: a mission to the Moon – all you need to know

Chandrayaan-3: A Mission to the Moon

India is preparing to launch a spacecraft carrying a lunar lander on July 14, its second attempt to achieve a soft landing on the moon. If successful, India will join an elite group of countries including the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China that have achieved this feat. The cost of this ambitious mission named Chandrayaan-3 is 6 billion rupees (about 73 million US dollars).

From where will Chandrayaan 3 be launched?

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is planning to launch Chandrayaan-3 from the spaceport of Sriharikota located on the east coast of India. The spacecraft will carry a lander and a rover to a site near the Moon’s south pole. Once the lander touches down, ISRO scientists aim to deploy the rover to conduct comprehensive studies on the Moon’s properties. Notably, this mission will be the first to target the South Pole, whereas previous missions had mainly landed at lower latitudes.

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ISRO emphasizes that the Moon’s south pole is of particular interest as parts of it remain in permanent shadow, raising the possibility of discovering lunar ice for the first time. In addition, large craters near the Moon’s south pole have the potential to reveal valuable information about the composition of the early Solar System.

Highlighting the importance of Chandrayaan-3, Mark Norman, a planetary geochemist at the Australian National University in Canberra, said the South Pole region has different geology than the regions explored during the US Apollo missions. As a result, this mission will provide a close-up view of a previously unknown region of the Moon.

Achieving a successful Moon landing with Chandrayaan-3 could be a significant step toward future Indian Moon missions and reflect India’s growing geopolitical aspirations.

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India’s Moon Mission Journey

Chandrayaan-3 follows two previous missions: the successful lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008, and the partially successful Chandrayaan-2, launched in 2019. While the second mission managed to place a lunar orbiter with eight functional instruments in space, this lander and rover, unfortunately, crashed during the final stages of landing in September 2019. ISRO Chairman Shridhar Somnath recently attributed the accident to a software error.

Chandrayaan 3’s safe soft landing a big challenge

India’s third Moon mission, Chandrayaan-3, will primarily focus on achieving a successful landing on the Moon. The mission consists of a three-stage rocket that will place Chandrayaan-3 in an elliptical parking orbit, approximately 170 km x 36,500 km in size. The two-tonne propulsion module would then bring the lander-rover complex into a circular orbit about 100 km above the lunar surface. The 1.75-tonne lander, named Vikram, is carrying a 26-kg, six-wheeled robotic rover called Pragyan. The rover is designed to explore the Moon’s surface for a period roughly equivalent to 14 Earth days.

Significant changes have been made in software and hardware

To address the problems encountered during Chandrayaan-2, ISRO engineers and scientists have made significant changes to Chandrayaan-3’s software and hardware, especially focusing on the lander thrusters. The organization has developed improved soft-landing sequences, and the lander now boasts four thruster engines instead of five, along with stronger legs, larger solar panels, and increased fuel capacity.

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Chandrayaan 2 failure

While ISRO has not released a public report analyzing Chandrayaan-2’s failure, a retired ISRO engineer noted that insufficient throttling of the engine during lunar descent, a gradual reduction in speed, played a significant role.

Objective: To advance lunar science

Chandrayaan-3’s propulsion module will also act as a communication relay satellite, while Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter will act as a backup relay. The propulsion module includes an instrument called the Spectro-Polarimeter of the Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE), which is designed to collect data on the polarization of light reflected by Earth. This data will help researchers identify other planets with similar signatures.

The lander will be equipped with instruments to measure the density of ions and electrons near the lunar surface, monitor temperature variations on the lunar surface, search for lunar earthquakes, and investigate the dynamics of the lunar system. Although similar measurements have been conducted by the American Apollo and Chinese Chang’e missions near the Moon’s equator, this will be the first analysis of the environment at either of the poles.

One aspect of particular interest is thermal conductivity, which depends on the grain size and packing of the regolith (loose debris) of the lunar surface. These findings will aid in marking the landing site and cannot be obtained from orbit. Additionally, as Mark Norman suggests, the study of a new field always holds the potential for unexpected discoveries.

While the scientific goals of Chandrayaan-3 may be relatively modest, Tomas Hrozensky from the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna emphasizes that the mission is seen as a critical step towards future lunar surface operations, including both manned and robotic missions. Establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon and other celestial bodies remains an immense challenge, as recent attempts have demonstrated. Hrozensky also notes that a successful Moon landing by India will possess important technological and geopolitical dimensions, with potential impacts beyond foundational scientific knowledge.

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“Landing on the Moon continues to be a highly valued political target for some nations,” says Hrozensky.

Sources:-online media reports

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