India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission creates history after landing near the South Pole of the Moon

Four days after the ill-fated landing of Russia’s Luna-25 lunar probe, India’s heavily instrumented Chandrayaan-3 robotic lander exited a rocket-powered trajectory on the lunar surface and successfully touched down near the moon’s south pole.

The automatic landing elevated India’s increasingly sophisticated space program to “space superpower” status, making it the fourth country to land an operational spacecraft on the Moon, after the United States, China and the former Soviet Union. South Pole Region.

An artist’s impression of the Chandrayaan-3 lander with its small rover positioned on the lunar surface.

ISRO/Indian Defense Network


Orbiting the moon in an elliptical orbit with an altitude of 83 miles and a low point of just 15.5 miles, Chandrayaan-3’s braking engines fired at about 8:15 a.m. EDT at an altitude of about 18 miles. to the surface.

After climbing to an altitude of about 4.5 miles and decelerating from 3,758 mph to about 800 mph, the spacecraft paused its descent for about 10 seconds to precisely align itself with the targeted landing site.

It then continued a computer-controlled descent to touchdown, flashing back a steady stream of images showing its approach to the lunar surface below. The spacecraft touched down at 8:33 am as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi watched via a television link.

Engineers, project managers, dignitaries and guests at the Indian Space Research Center’s control center erupted in cheers and applause.

ISRO chief Somanath said, “We have achieved a soft landing on the moon. Yes, on the moon!”

Engineers and managers at the Indian Space Research Centre’s control center cheered and applauded as the Chandrayaan-3 lander landed on the moon.

ISRO Webcast


Later addressing the ISRO crew, Modi spoke in Hindi, but in English, “India is now on the moon!”

“This victory belongs to all mankind,” he said. “And it will help other countries’ moon missions in the future. I believe that all countries in the world … can aspire to the moon and beyond. … The sky is not the limit!”

The dramatic landing of Chandrayaan-3 was telecast live on YouTube and the Indian Space Agency’s website. A software glitch caused the Chandrayaan-2 crash Minutes before touchdown in 2019.

It initially looked like Russia might steal India’s thunder with Monday’s scheduled landing of the Luna-25 spacecraft, Russia’s first attempt to touch down on the moon in nearly 50 years.

But at the end of the week, An impulse shot gone wrong And Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, declared the spacecraft “defunct” after a “collision with the lunar surface.”

In contrast, Chandrayaan-3’s orbital adjustment went by the book, setting up a touchdown at the landing site that coincided with lunar sunrise. Designed to operate for a full two-week lunar “day,” Chandrayaan-3 consisted of a solar-powered Vikram lander and an 83-pound six-wheeled rover named Pragyan, which was carried to the surface inside the lander.

The lander is equipped with instruments to measure temperature and thermal conductivity, seismic activity and the plasma environment. It also has a NASA laser reflector array that helps it accurately measure the Moon’s distance from Earth.

The rover, which has its own solar array and is designed to roll down a ramp from its perch to the surface at the landing site, also carries instruments including two spectrometers to help determine the elemental composition of lunar rocks and soil at the landing site.

While science is an important objective, the primary goal of Chandrayaan-3’s mission is to demonstrate soft landing and rover technology as important steps for future, more ambitious flights to deep space targets.

“Roscosmos State Corporation congratulates its Indian colleagues on the successful landing of the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft,” the Russian space agency said in a post on Telegram. “Exploring the Moon is important to all of humanity, and it will become a platform for deep space exploration in the future.”

The Chandrayaan-3 lander was on top of its propulsion module before launch. The propulsion module puts Chandrayaan-3 into a planned lunar orbit, continuously orbiting the moon, while the lander maneuvers on the surface.

ISRO


Launched on July 14, the first mission to reach the South Pole of the Moon, an area of ​​great interest because of the possibility of accessible ice deposits in permanently shadowed craters. Ice provides an in situ source of air, water and hydrogen rocket fuel for future astronauts.

The possibility of ice deposits has sparked a new space race. NASA’s Artemis program plans to send astronauts to the South Pole in the next few years, and China is working on a plan to send its own astronauts, or “tyconauts,” to the moon’s south pole by the end of the decade.

India is clearly interested, as are Japan, the European Space Agency and several private companies developing robotic landers under contract with NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Chandrayaan-3 lander was launched on August 14. The exact date is July 14.

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