India launches second moon mission
doi:10.1038/nindia.2019.87 Published online 22 July 2019
India embarked on its second lunar voyage today with a mission to the Moon’s south pole. Chandrayaan-2 was launched on its 384,400 km voyage from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, by GSLV Mk-III, India’s most powerful launcher to date.
The launch came after an aborted attempt on 15 July 2019.
Leading the project are two senior female scientists, project director Vanitha Muthayya and mission director Ritu Karidhal.
“Chandrayaan-2 is a programme for the entire nation,” said Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief, K Sivan.
Chandrayaan-2 has several science payloads to expand the lunar scientific knowledge through detailed study of topography, seismography, mineral identification and distribution and surface chemical composition.
According to ISRO, the Rs 1000 crore mission seeks a better understanding of the origin and the evolution of the Moon. Its polar regions are intriguing to scientists for their abundant water ice, on the floors of permanently shadowed craters. Such ‘lunar cold traps’ contain a fossil record of the early solar system and also harbour a precious resource that could aid human exploration of Earth's nearest neighbour.
Improving on its predecessor Chandrayaan-1, launched in October 2008, Chandrayaan-2 is armed with three modules — orbiter, lander and rover, and almost all the components are designed and fabricated in India.
The orbiter which weighs 2.4 tonnes, has a mission life of one year and will operate in a 100x100 km lunar polar orbit.
The 1.4 tonnes lander, Vikram, to be placed on the orbiter is named after Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian space programme. The 27 kg rover inside the lander is a six -wheeled robotic vehicle, Pragyan, ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit.
Chandrayaan-2 would be ejected into an Earth parking orbit, before a series of manoeuvres raise its orbit to a Lunar Transfer Trajectory. On entering the Moon’s sphere of influence, the on-board thrusters will slow down the spacecraft for a lunar capture.
The lander will separate from the orbiter and the rover will roll out and carry the experiments on lunar surface for one lunar day, which is equivalent to 14 Earth days.
The spacecraft will soft land the lander in a high plain between two craters – Manzinus C and Simpelius N at a latitude of about 70 degrees south. Soft landing, which India is attempting for the first time, aims to prevent damage or destruction of the vehicle.
“The 15-minute operation, when Vikram makes its final descent and soft-lands, will be the most terrifying moments as we have never undertaken such a complex mission,” said Sivan.