UPDATE: Chandrayaan-3 was successfully launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota Range (SDSC SHAR), India, on 14 July at 14:35 IST (11:05 CEST) .
India has its sights set on the Moon.
On 14 July, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch Chandrayaan-3 – a Moon mission featuring a lunar lander and a rover that will spend 14 days carrying out scientific activities on the surface. In addition to ISRO’s own deep space communication antenna, the mission will rely on support from ground stations around the world, coordinated by ESA and NASA.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission is the latest in ISRO’s Chandrayaan (‘Moon craft’) series of lunar missions. It will demonstrate new technologies required for interplanetary spaceflight and aims to achieve India’s first soft landing on another celestial body.
The spacecraft will be launched on 14 July at 14:35 IST (11:05 CEST) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota Range (SDSC SHAR), India. It consists of a propulsion module, a lander module and a rover, which will all be operated from ISRO’s Spacecraft Control Center in Bangalore, India.
The propulsion module will carry the lander into lunar orbit, which will separate and begin its descent to the surface around 23 August.
The propulsion module will remain in lunar orbit and use its scientific payload to study Earth.
The lander module is equipped with instruments to measure the surface temperature and seismic activity around the landing site, a laser retroreflector provided by NASA, and more.
The rover’s instruments will be used to investigate the composition of nearby lunar surface material. Surface operations will last for approximately 14 days.
ESA support to Chandrayaan-3
Communication is an essential part of every deep space mission. Ground stations on Earth keep operators safely connected to spacecraft as they venture into the unknowns and risks of space.
Without ground station support, it’s impossible to get any data from a spacecraft, to know how it’s doing, to know if it is safe or even to know where it is.
ISRO operates a 32-metre deep space tracking station in India that enables it to locate, track, command and receive telemetry and scientific data from its distant spacecraft.
But sometimes, ISRO’s operators need to track or command a spacecraft when it is outside the field of view of this antenna.
Building new giant antennas and control stations around the world is very expensive. So, like many space agencies and commercial companies across the globe, ISRO will receive support from the stations of partner organisations instead. Not only does this significantly reduces costs, but it also fosters international spaceflight collaboration.
Thanks to its global ‘Estrack’ network of deep space stations, ESA can help its partners track, command and receive data from spacecraft almost anywhere in the Solar System via its ESOC mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
ESA’s 15 m antenna in Kourou, French Guiana, will be used to track Chandrayaan-3 during the days after launch to help ensure that the spacecraft survived the rigours of lift off and is in good health as it begins its journey to the Moon.
As the spacecraft recedes from Earth, ESA will coordinate tracking support from the 32-metre antenna operated by Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd in the UK. Goonhilly will support Chandrayaan-3’s propulsion and lander modules. Crucially, it will support the lander during the entire phase of lunar surface operations, helping to ensure that science data acquired by the rover arrives safely with ISRO in India.
Data and telemetry sent back by Chandrayaan-3 arriving via Kourou and Goonhilly will first be forwarded to ESOC. From there, they will be sent to ISRO for analysis.
The two European stations will compliment support from NASA’s Deep Space Network and ISRO’s own stations to ensure the spacecraft’s operators never lose sight of their pioneering Moon craft.
Support to additional ISRO missions
Chandrayaan-3 is just one of two ISRO missions that ESA will support this summer.
ISRO’s Aditya-L1 solar observatory is due to launch towards the end of August. Aditya-L1 is named after the Hindu Sun god and the spacecraft’s future home, L1 – the first Lagrange point of the Earth-Sun system. It will study a number of properties of our star, such as the dynamics and origins of coronal mass ejections.
The ESA support to Aditya-L1 will include similar tracking activities from Kourou and Goonhilly. But it will also include support from the largest of ESA’s antennas – the three 35-metre deep space antennas, located in New Norcia, Australia, Malargüe, Argentina, and Cebreros, Spain.
These stations are used by ESA every day to communicate with its expanding fleet of Solar System explorers such as Juice, BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter, and space observatories such as Gaia and the recently launched Euclid. They also support missions flown by ESA’s institutional and commercial partners.
ESA Flight Dynamics experts were also involved in the support to Aditya-L1. ESA assisted with the validation of the ‘orbit determination’ software that ISRO will use for the Aditya-L1 mission. This software is vital for calculating exactly where your spacecraft is in order to communicate with it and calibrate its scientific instruments.
Discussions are underway regarding potential ESA ground station support for India’s first human spaceflight programme, Gaganyaan.
Follow @esaoperations on Twitter for updates on ESA’s support to Chandrayaan-3.