Chandrayaan-3 on its last manouver before deorbiting.

Chandrayaan-3 Brings India Among The Big Of Space Exploration

Chandrayaan-3 at 12:33 UTC softly touched the surface of the Moon, making India the fourth nation to reach this goal! What's going to happen now?

Just over a month ago, the World was watching India launch Chandrayaan-3 into space to reach the Moon. Today, August 23, is the fateful day: Chandrayaan-3 reached the most crucial part of the mission.

Just before 12:15 UTC, the lander started the descending phase from an altitude between 25 km and 30 km. A few minutes later, at 12:33 UTC, the Vikram Lander touched the Moon’s soil and ISRO’s control room erupted in celebrations that also involved Prime Minister Modi connected from South Africa. India is now the fourth nation, along with the USA, Russia and China, to be able to land an object on the Moon! Tracking of the probe during the descent phase was made possible by the ESA’s antennas part of the ESTRACK network ground station, located in Australia.


The journey

The lander with its rover lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the 14th of July. Between July 15 and 25, Chandrayaan-3 performed 5 firings to raise its orbit and insert in a translunar trajectory. On the 5th of August, it was successfully inserted into the lunar orbit with a periapsis (minimum orbit radius) of 164 km and an apoapsis (maximum orbit radius) of 18.074 km. From here until August 16 the spacecraft circularized its orbit and then separated from the Propulsion Module. On August 20, its orbit had an apoapsis of around 134 km and a periapsis of 25 km. This was the final orbit before starting the descent.

Chandrayaan-3 journey
Chandrayaan-3 journey to the Moon. Credit: ISRO

What’s now?

Chandrayaan-3 mission is not planned to do something different from previous missions accomplished by other nations. Its main aim is to prove that India is among the few countries that can successfully land objects on the Moon, contrary to what happened to Chandrayaan-2.

Nevertheless, it’s the first mission that managed to land at the Moon’s south pole. This is a strategic area both for science and, eventually, resources since here there are important reserves of water ice, crucial for future manned exploration missions. Not by chance, this was the same region where the Russian mission Luna-25 planned to land and that, unfortunately, crashed due to a wrong ignition duration.

The Moon, as seen by Lander Imager Camera 4 on August 20, 2023. Credit: ISRO

To touch the Moon’s surface was not only Vikram Lander. Inside it, indeed, is stored the rover that is being released through the opening of a side panel that works also as a ramp. The life expectation of both the lander and rover is just two weeks since they are not designed to survive the cold and rigid Moon’s night and that’s how long they can explore and study the region.

ISRO claims that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, the only part that survived the previous mission, can be used as a communication relay in case the lander can’t communicate directly with the station down on Earth.

As said before, this is an important region for resources. To study in detail the surrounding terrain, the rover features the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), while on the lander there are the Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) and the Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA). Moreover, in collaboration with NASA, there will be a reflector for lunar ranging studies, like the ones left by the Apollo astronauts.

First image of the lunar surface captured by Chandrayaan-3 after touch down. Credits: ISRO
First image of the lunar surface captured by Chandrayaan-3 after touch down. Credits: ISRO


A new space race

It is clear at this point the fundamental role that this celestial body has in making mankind a multi-planetary species. As happened with the discovery of America in 1492, nations will likely race each other to reach the most interesting (and remunerative?) area.

India's Chandrayaan-3 Lander as seen in the Clean Room. Credits: ISRO
India’s Chandrayaan-3 Lander as seen in the Clean Room. Credits: ISRO

The only difference is that this time, the required economic resources are huge, making necessary some sort of cooperation between some Nations. We can already see this in the Artemis program, involving 28 countries, or the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, involving China, Russia, Venezuela, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. Can we say to be at the beginning of a new space race?


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Matteo Ferrarini

Matteo Ferrarini

B.Sc in aerospace engineering, now studying the world of renewable energy. Always looking at the stars, but sometimes you can find me underwater.

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