When one thinks about missions to the Moon, the first countries that come to mind are the United States and Russia, the two that took part in the first space race during the 50s and the 60s. However, today’s scenario has changed: since the late 90s, many private and public organizations have reached our satellite by landing or crashing man-made objects on its surface.
Among those countries, there’s India, with its national space agency ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). During the Chandrayaan 1 mission in 2008, they reached the Moon’s orbit and successfully crashed a probe on it a year later. Today, after a first try (Chandrayaan 2) to safely touch down on the Moon’s surface, India launched Chandrayaan 3 on board the Mark-III (LVM-3) rocket.
The rocket successfully lifted off as expected at 09:05 UTC from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) on Sriharikota Island. It entered orbit after 115s, with the trans-lunar injection burn taking place at 09:21 UTC.
Chandrayaan 3 mission is pursuing to put on the Moon’s surface not only a lander but also a rover, making India the fourth country to have a controlled lunar landing. However, this is not the first time India tried to land on our satellite. The first attempt took place in 2019 when, unfortunately, the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover of the mission Chandrayaan 2 crashed on the Moon’s soil.
Based on this, changes were made both on the hardware and software. Major improvements for what concern the lander includes redundancy of many subsystems, strengthening of the structural interfaces of the lander legs, and the addition of a crucial sensor called Laser Doppler Velocimeter.
The spacecraft and the objectives
The main objective is to demonstrate the ability to land on the Moon gently; therefore, the experiments carried out by the lander won’t be much different from the ones already seen during the Apollo program or the more recent Chinese Chang’e missions. However, there’s an important dissimilarity: for the first time, the landing site will be near the Moon’s South Pole.
This is an unexplored region with a completely different geology. Here will be taken measurements of the density of ions and electrons and their behavior in time; scans for moonquakes will be carried out, as well as surface temperature measurements. On the lander, there will also be a mirror from NASA to understand the dynamics of the Moon system.
The rover, instead, will be equipped with the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS), two instruments that aim to study the composition of the landing site. These analyses, which will be carried out in a region rich in craters, can help scientists on Earth to understand better how the Solar System was at its origin.
Even if its main objective is the Moon, this mission looks beyond our neighborhood. On the propulsion module, which will serve as a communications relay, there’s an instrument called SHAPE (Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth) that will help scientists in the search for Earth-like planets outside of our Solar System. It will study the polarization of the light reflected by the Earth.
A national mission of international importance
This mission is the demonstration that, despite the Moon exploration begun in 1959 with the Russian Luna 1, reaching our satellite is still very topical, both for scientific and geopolitical reasons. For example, some days ago, India joined the so-called Artemis Accords. According to the White House, the results from this mission will be helpful for the future Artemis’ landings.
International collaboration will be the key since designing a mission to the Moon is extremely complex. Just think about the challenges of creating a system able to operate on our satellite’s surface, having as only test environment the Earth. To test the lander’s leg mechanism, for example, it was necessary to create a “bed” able to simulate different touch-down conditions.
Now that Chandrayaan 3 has taken flight, we just have to wait for the lander to touch the Moon’s surface, and this is expected to take place on August 23. Will that be India’s revenge day? Stay tuned!