The Chandrayaan-3 Mission is poised for its final descent onto the moon’s surface, marking a significant moment in the country’s space exploration history. This attempt comes after a failed landing by Chandrayaan-2 in 2019.
In the realm of lunar exploration, only China has achieved successful moon landings since 1976. With Russia’s recent Luna-25 lander mishap, India is now in line to undertake its own lunar landing effort.
Scheduled for 8:34 am EDT (12:34 UTC) Wednesday, the Chandrayaan-3 lander, named Vikram, is expected to land softly, redeeming India’s past challenges.
Decades of Struggle and China’s Dominance
For the past 47 years, successfully landing on the moon has remained elusive for any non-Chinese landing craft. Since 2013, China has secured three triumphant landings through its robotic space missions.
These achievements include a controlled touchdown on the moon’s far side and an ambitious sample return mission in 2020. The dearth of successful attempts from other nations underscores China’s dominance in lunar landings. Following Russia’s Luna-24 mission in 1976, China took the lead, leaving the rest of the world behind.
Attempts from private entities like Israeli and Japanese teams faltered in 2019 and April of this year. India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission also joined this list of unsuccessful missions four years ago.
The US, too, is making strides with its lunar exploration endeavors.
Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are developing US-built landers under NASA contracts. Despite some delays, these commercial efforts are aiming to launch within the year.
Japan, not to be left behind, is planning its inaugural lunar lander Mission later this week, with an anticipated landing in the next four to six months.
India’s Second Opportunity
India’s resolve remains strong despite the setback of Chandrayaan-2.
In response to the 2019 failure, the country’s space agency swiftly devised Chandrayaan-3. Engineers identified the cause of the Chandrayaan-2 lander’s crash—a sequence of issues involving the braking engines’ higher thrust and software incapability.
At a cost of around $90 million, India launched Chandrayaan-3 on July 14, 2023. It arrived in lunar orbit on August 5, after propulsion maneuvers.
Vikram’s landing is meticulously planned. After separating from its propulsion module, it entered an elliptical orbit and inched as close as 24 km (15 miles) from the lunar surface.
The lander’s descent is anticipated to commence around 20 minutes before landing. A set of hydrazine-fueled engines will guide Vikram out of orbit. The spacecraft will then shift from a horizontal to a vertical orientation, initiating its descent.
An array of cameras will scan for hazards, guiding the autonomous navigation system’s decisions to avoid obstacles.
Exploring New Terrain and Unveiling Mysteries
Should the landing succeed, Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander will break new ground by exploring a site close to the moon’s south pole. However, its landing site won’t encompass permanently shadowed craters where water ice deposits are believed to exist.
Vikram’s mission doesn’t end with its landing; it’s set to deploy a rover named Pragyan for in-situ chemical analysis. This solar-powered rover is equipped with various scientific instruments, including a thermophysical experiment and a seismic sensor. Notably, NASA contributed a laser retroreflector array for future lunar ranging measurements.
Good luck, Chandrayaan-3! 🍀