The success of India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission has brought global media attention to the ambitions of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) space program. Just as the Lander Vikram and the rover Pragyan are in full action on the surface of the lunar south pole, the green light has been given to an even more ambitious mission to explore our satellite, this time in collaboration with the Japanese space agency JAXA: Lunar Polar EXploration, LUPEX at a glance.
The prophetic words of Vikram Sarabhai
“There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space flight.
But we are convinced that, if we want to play a significant role at the national level and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in applying advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society“.
These are the words of the father of the Indian space program, the physicist Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai. Only sixty years ago India began to take its first steps in space exploration by launching small suborbital rockets, called Rohini, from a launch facility located on the coast overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Today, ISRO is a reality capable of sending satellites around the Moon and Mars, descending, first in the world, successfully to the lunar South Pole and having a series of launchers suitable for every need.
Naturally, today, essential agencies, such as JAXA, turn to this country to realize their ambitions in the space sector.
A journey that began in 2017
The agreements between ISRO and JAXA for a joint mission to the South Pole of the Moon started in December 2017 with the signing of a common protocol to send, by 2026, an Indian-built lander and a Japanese-built rover. JAXA will also be responsible for launching the automatic station into space using the new Mitsubishi H3 heavy launcher, under development.
The Japanese space agency completed its preliminary feasibility study in 2021 and in April 2023 a joint Japanese-Indian delegation began working jointly to study, especially in light of the data obtained from the Chandrayaan-3 mission, possible moon landing sites, telecommunications and telemetry methodologies of the lander and rover.
In this sense, the contribution provided by the next JAXA SLIM mission will be fundamental, which should bring a small lander to land in an area not far from the lunar equatorial belt, using a contextual recognition system of the underlying territory, a kind of facial recognition but applied to the lunar soil.
A rich set of tools
Weighing 350 kg, rover included, the mission lander will be able to survive, unlike Chandrayaan-3, the lunar night for an estimated duration of 6 terrestrial months. In the Japanese-made rover, there will be an auger capable of examining the ground up to a depth of 1.5m. The European-made L-band spectrometer EMS-L (Exospheric Mass Spectrometer L-band), foreseen for the Russian mission Luna-27, will be assigned to the lander’s onboard equipment.
The instrumentation equipment is completed by a whole series of equipment such as spectrometers and radars dedicated to the search for water present in the subsoil and in the lunar regolith such as the GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar), the NS (Neutron Spectrometer), the ALIS (Advanced Lunar Imaging Spectrometer) and the REIWA (REsource Investigation Water Analyzer) package as well as a low energy gamma-ray spectrometer LEGRS (Low Energy Gamma Ray Spectrometer), APS (Alpha Particle Spectrometer) to measure the amount of alpha particles and two instruments for measuring the mass and velocity of micrometeorites and the search for dust particles with an electrostatic charge: LUMEX (LUnar Micrometeorite EXperiment) and LEDEX (Lunar Electrostatic Dust EXperiment).
The unknown factor of the rocket launcher
If from the ISRO side, the mission that is being carried out successfully on the Moon bodes well for the results of future missions, the unknown factor linked to the success of the maiden flight of the Mitsubishi H-III heavy launcher weighs on the future LUPEX program.
This new two-stage vehicle, with a maximum payload capacity of 7,900 kg in the GTO, failed its maiden launch on Mar. 7, 2023, due to a second-stage misfire.
Before the scheduled flight with the LUPEX mission, at least 14 launches are scheduled which should certify the reliability.