July 14th, 2023
India’s much-anticipated Chandrayaan-3 mission successfully lifted off from the country’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre. It includes the country’s second attempt to land a spacecraft on the Moon.
Launch occurred atop the country’s medium-lift LVM3 rocket at 5:05 a.m. EDT (9:05 UTC) July 14, 2023. This mission marks a significant milestone for the Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO, and follows the setback encountered during the Chandrayaan-2 lander mission in 2019.
The 8,600-pound (3,900 kilogram) Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft consists of three integral parts, including a propulsion module that also serves as a communications orbiter for the other two parts: a 3,860-pound (1,752-kilogram) lander and a 57-pound (26-kilogram) rover, each designed to fulfill specific scientific objectives.
According to ISRO, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter from the 2019 mission will act as a communications backup for surface operations.
Following launch, the spacecraft was placed into a parking orbit of 105 by 22,680 miles (170 by 36,500 kilometers). The propulsion module is expected to employ its engines to gradually maneuver the vehicle to intercept the Moon and then into a precise 100-kilometer circular polar orbit around Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor.
The anticipated landing, scheduled for late August, is expected to take place in the unexplored south polar region of the Moon. This is the same area that the lander for the Chandrayaan-2 mission was supposed to touch down in 2019. However, a software glitch caused that vehicle to crash on the surface.
If the Chandrayaan-3 landing is successful, it will boast several notable accomplishments. Not only would it make India the fourth country to successfully soft-land on the Moon, the craft would be the first to successfully do so in the challenging south polar region.
The solar-powered lander carries three payloads: Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment, which is expected to measure thermal conductivity and temperature on the Moon’s surface; the Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity, which will measure any moonquakes or other seismic activity in the area; and the Langmuir Probe, which is designed to estimate plasma density and its variations, according to ISRO.
Additionally, the lander has a NASA-provided retroreflector array, which teams on Earth can use to bounce a laser off of for lunar ranging studies, according to NASA.
Inside the lander is a small rover, also powered by a solar panel. Shortly after landing it is expected to disembark from the landing craft to traverse the lunar surface and conduct experiments of its own. This includes a laser induced breakdown spectroscopy device and an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer. Both are expected to be used to determine the composition of lunar regolith and rocks at the landing site.
Both the lander and rover are projected to have an operational lifespan of about 14 Earth days, or about one lunar daylight period. Because of the cold temperatures of the lunar night, the spacecraft are not expected to survive.
As of right now, India’s lander is expected to touch down as early as Aug. 23, setting the stage for a new chapter in the country’s lunar exploration.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission is particularly significant as India recently became the 27th country to join the United States-led Artemis Accords. By participating in this international agreement, India demonstrates its commitment to collaboration and adherence to principles governing safe and sustainable exploration of the Moon and other celestial bodies.
Video courtesy of ISRO
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.