Indian Chandrayaan-3’s landing close to the lunar south polar area makes history

Indian Chandrayaan-3's landing close to the lunar south polar area makes history

India’s thoroughly instrumented Chandrayaan-3 robotic lander slid out of orbit for a rocket-powered approach to the lunar surface, successfully touching down close to the moon’s south pole, four days after Russia’s unfortunate Luna-25 moon mission crashed landed.

In-depth details about Indian Chandrayaan-3’s landing close to the lunar south polar area makes history

The automated landing elevated India’s increasingly advanced space program to the status of “space superpower,” making it the first country to reach the south polar region and the fourth country overall, after the United States, China, and the former Soviet Union, to successfully land an operational spacecraft on the moon.

Around 8:15 a.m. EDT, Chandrayaan-3’s braking engines started firing at an altitude of roughly 18 miles to start the powered descent to the moon’s surface. The spacecraft was orbiting the moon in an elliptical orbit with a high point of 83 miles and a low point of just 15.5 miles.

The spacecraft paused the fall for about 10 seconds to perfectly align itself with the intended landing spot after descending to an altitude of roughly 4.5 miles and slowing from 3,758 mph to around 800 mph.

As it approached the lunar surface below, it proceeded to descend to touchdown under computer guidance as it sent back a constant stream of photos. Around 8:33 a.m., the spacecraft touched down, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi watching via a television link. 

Cheers and acclaim broke out among engineers, mission managers, dignitaries, and visitors in the control room of the Indian Space Research Organization.

The ISRO Chairman Shri Somanath declared, “We have accomplished soft landing on the moon.” Certainly, on the moon.

“India is now on the moon!” Modi then said to the ISRO team while speaking in Hindi and English simultaneously.

“The success belongs to all of humanity,” he declared. “And it will support future lunar missions by other nations. I have faith that every nation on earth is capable of reaching the moon and beyond. The possibilities are endless.

The dramatic Chandrayaan-3 touchdown, which was broadcast live on YouTube and the website of the Indian space agency, marked the end of a dedicated four-year effort to recover from a software error that led the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft to crash just before touchdown in 2019.

With the Luna-25 probe’s planned landing on the moon on Monday—Russia’s first lunar landing attempt in nearly 50 years—it at first seemed as though Russia might grab some of India’s limelight.

However, a thruster firing error over the weekend led Roscosmos, the Russian state space agency, to claim that the spacecraft had “ceased to exist” following a “collision with the lunar surface.”

In contrast, Chandrayaan-3’s orbital modifications followed protocol, resulting in a touchdown that occurred at the landing site during lunar dawn. Chandrayaan-3, which was built to last the entire two-week lunar “day,” consists of the solar-powered Vikram lander and an 83-pound, six-wheel rover dubbed Pragyan that was brought to the surface tucked inside the lander.

The lander is outfitted with instrumentation to gauge the plasma environment, seismic activity, and temperature and thermal conductivity. In order to accurately calculate the moon’s distance from Earth, it is also equipped with a NASA laser reflector array.

The rover also includes sensors, including two spectrometers to assist identify the elemental composition of lunar rocks and soil at the landing site. The rover has its own solar array and is built to roll down a ramp to the surface from its perch inside the lander.

The primary objective of Chandrayaan-3’s mission, despite the fact that science is a major goal, is to showcase soft-landing and rover technology as essential building blocks for future, more ambitious journeys to deep space locations.

The Russian space agency wrote on Telegram, “Roscosmos State Corporation congratulates Indian colleagues on the successful landing of the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft.” “Moon exploration is crucial for all of humanity, as it could one day serve as a base for deep space exploration.”

Launched on August 14, the mission is the first to make it to the moon’s south pole zone, which is of particular interest because it may contain accessible ice deposits in craters that are continuously shrouded in shadow. Future astronauts may be able to obtain air, water, and possibly hydrogen rocket fuel on-site from ice.

A new kind of space race has been started in response to the potential for ice accumulation. China is working on plans to fly its own astronauts, or “taikonauts,” to the south pole of the moon around the end of the decade. NASA’s Artemis program plans to send astronauts to the south polar region in the coming years.

There is no doubt that India is interested, as is Japan, the European Space Agency, and a number of commercial companies who are developing their own robotic landers for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

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