India launches Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter and lander mission

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Hausjärvi, FINLAND — India successfully launched its Chandrayaan-2 orbiter and lunar surface spacecraft Monday, a week after the first launch attempt was scrubbed due to an issue with the launch vehicle.

A GSLV Mk 3 aunch vehicle lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota off the coast of the Bay of Bengal at 5:13 a.m. Eastern, with the event webcast live by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The mission aims to place an orbiter in a 100- by 100-kilometer lunar polar orbit and carry out a soft landing near the south pole of the moon with a lander and rover. A successful touchdown would make India the fourth country to achieve a lunar landing after the U.S., the former Soviet Union and China.

Last week’s attempt saw countdown halted 56 minutes before launch due to a ‘technical snag’. Later reports from Indian media state that a pressure drop in the upper stage of the 44-metre-tall rocket due to a helium leak, which would have resulted in a loss of required thrust.

With the launch proceeding as planned, separation of the 3,850-kilogram Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft from the C25 cryogenic third stage occurred at 974 seconds into the flight, with the spacecraft in a low Earth orbit. Trans-lunar injection is set to take place August 13, 23 days into the mission, following five orbit-raising maneuvers. Lunar orbit will be achieved seven days later.

The mission orbiter, a 2,379-kilogram upgraded version of the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter will separate from the 1,471-kilogram ‘Vikram’ lander and the 27-kilogram Pragyan rover on mission day 43. The landing attempt will take September 7, according to ISRO.

The $150 million mission seeks to gather data on water, minerals, seismic activity, composition and thermal characteristics of the moon while also making an unprecedented landing near the lunar south pole. ISRO chairman K. Sivan has described Chandrayaan-2 as the, “most complex space mission ever to be undertaken by the agency.”

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is designed to operate in a 100 by 100-kilometer lunar polar orbit for one year. Its eight payloads include a Terrain Mapping Camera, which will produce a 3D map for studying lunar mineralogy and geology, an X-ray spectrometer, solar X-ray monitor, imaging spectrometer and a high-resolution camera.

Vikram, with four science payloads, will communicate with both the terrestrial Indian Deep Space Network at Byalalu near Bangalore and the orbiter. It will also facilitate communications with the rover, with carries two payloads, a speed of 1 centimeter per second and range of 500 meters across its one lunar day mission lifetime.

The target landing site is situated at 70.9 degrees South, 22.8 degrees East in an area of highland plain between the craters Manzinus C and Simpelius N, with a backup site at 67.7 degrees South, 22.7 degrees East.

Solar panels powering the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover will be almost perpendicular to the lunar surface in order to maximize power, as the sun does not rise high in the sky at the latitude of landing.

Pragyan Rover mounted on the ramp projecting from out of the sides of the Vikram lander. Credit: ISRO

 

Indian space progress

Chandrayaan-2 is India’s second lunar mission following Chandrayaan 1 in 2008. Approved in 2007 with the initial plan for Russia to construct the mission lander, delays and technical issues saw Russia step away from the project. ISRO then took the decision for Chandrayaan-2 to be an entirely Indian effort.

The mission also comes at an important time for Indian space efforts, Namrata Goswami, an independent analyst on space policy, told SpaceNews.

India is, “re-branding the mission within the space resources discourse that has animated space policy, both within the U.S. and China, by its plan to land very close to the lunar south pole,” Goswami says.

A success for Chandrayaan-2, “will inspire the NewSpace industry that has come up in India, and will galvanize a greater cooperation between state funded space organization and new space startups.”

Goswami also underlines a critical recent shift in Indian space policy with Mission Shakti, India’s first ASAT weapon, despite ISRO being “historically focused on civilian space and wary of any reputation that might color it within a ‘militarization of space’ canvas.”

The launch of Chandrayaan-2 comes after spate of lunar missions and announcements from a numerous countries in 2019.

In April, the Beresheet mission by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL made an unsuccessful attempt to soft land on the lunar surface, following the first ever landing on the lunar far side by the Chinese Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover in January.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced March 26 the goal of a crewed lunar landing in 2024, accelerating the crewed lunar spaceflight program authorized by Space Policy Directive 1 December 2017, which called for a return to the moon by 2028.