HELSINKI — India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander successfully touched down on the moon Wednesday, making the country only the fourth to achieve the feat.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission lander touched down in the vicinity of the lunar South Pole region at 8:32 a.m. Eastern (1232 UTC) Aug. 23 after a 19-minute powered descent from lunar orbit.
India joins the United States, the former Soviet Union and China in successfully soft landing on the moon.
Footage from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Mission Operations Complex showed jubilant scenes following the successful landing. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared moments after the landing that, “India is on the moon.”
The Vikram lander touched down near a prime landing site at 69.37 degrees south latitude and 32.35 degrees east longitude, close to the crater Manzinus U. The descent was supported by ESA’s ESTRACK deep space tracking station in New Norcia, Australia.
The landing was made at the highest latitude of any spacecraft to soft land on the moon. The success follows a failed attempt in 2019 with the Chandrayaan-2 mission lander.
The landing also comes days after Russia’s Luna 25 spacecraft suffered an issue during an orbital maneuver and smashed into the moon.
The lander also carries Pragyan, a six-wheeled, 26-kilogram solar-powered rover which will seek to demonstrate roving operation on the lunar surface. Its rollout is expected within the next few hours.
ISRO’s live coverage of the event began at 7:50 a.m. Eastern. The mission lander module began an automatic landing sequence at 8:14 a.m. having reached a designated point in its orbit. The spacecraft activated its throttleable engines and began its powered descent from an altitude of around 30 kilometers.
The mission is chiefly a landing technology demonstrator, the lander and rover carry a number of payloads for in-situ science experiments. Vikram carries the Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive ionosphere and Atmosphere and Langmuir Probe (RAMBHA-LP), a deployable Langmuir Probe to measure plasma density near the lunar surface, a probe to measure thermal properties of lunar surface down to a depth of 10 centimeters, an instrument for detecting lunar seismic Activity, and the passive Laser Retroreflector Array provided by NASA.
Pragyan carries an Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) for assessing the chemical and mineralogical composition of the lunar surface.
Both spacecraft will spend the remaining roughly 12 days of lunar sunlight carrying out activities and experiments. Neither are expected to survive the lunar nighttime, during which temperatures will drop to around minus 130 Celsius.
Chandrayaan-3 launched July 14 on a LVM-3 heavy-lift rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre into an initial highly-elliptical Earth orbit, beginning a circuitous journey to the moon.
It arrived in an elliptical lunar orbit Aug. 5, from which it began to trim its orbit to a roughly circular low lunar orbit in preparation for the landing attempt.
ISRO chose the prime landing site using high-resolution photographs and data from Chandrayaan-2 orbiter and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Chandrayaan-2 landing attempt which suffered a hard landing in 2019 due to an accumulation of software errors.
Chandrayaan-1, India’s first moon probe, launched in 2008 and spent a year in lunar orbit hunting for evidence of water molecules. It was then deliberately commanded to crash-land onto the lunar surface in 2009.
The mission comes amid renewed interest in the moon, particularly surrounding the lunar south pole and potential sources of water-ice.
The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 was the first spacecraft to achieve a lunar soft landing, in February 1966, and transmitting photographic images to Earth.
The U.S. matched this feat with Surveyor in June that year, before landing astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in Mare Tranquillitatis in July 1969. China performed the first of its three soft landings in December 2013 with the Chang’e-3 lander and rover mission, before making the first lunar far side landing in January 2019.
More countries and private entities could soon join this rarefied group. Japan is set to launch its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission on a H-IIA rocket at 8:34 p.m. Eastern Aug. 25 from Tanegashima Space Center.
Intuitive Machines plans to launch its IM-1 on a Falcon 9 later this year as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program later this year, while Astrobotic Technology’s Mission One, also part of CLPS, could also launch before the end of the year on a ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket.
China plans to launch its Chang’e 6 spacecraft in 2024 to attempt to collect and return with the first samples from the lunar far side, while the U.S. plans further CLPS missions for 2024.