Making History

by BTM

Wed, 09 August 2023

Making History

India’s lunar exploration programme is on the verge of its greatest triumph yet as the Chandrayaan-3 rocket successfully blasted off on a mission to the moon last month.

The rocket, which translates to ‘moon craft’ in Sanskrit, took off from a launch pad in Sriharikota, an island in southern India, with an orbiter, a lander and a rover, in a demonstration of India’s emerging space technology. The spacecraft will embark on a journey lasting slightly over a month before landing on the moon’s surface later this month.

Until then, the rocket is slowly boosting its orbit ahead of a final shot toward the moon. To do this, the spacecraft’s propulsion module completes an orbit-raising manoeuvre, with the engines firing at the spacecraft’s closest approach to Earth, raising its apogee, or the farthest point from Earth of its orbit.

Chandrayaan-3 is seen as the crown jewel of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the mission is India’s second attempt to touch down on the moon, following the failed 2019 attempt made by the Chandrayaan-2 lander. On that occasion, it entered the lunar orbit but a software glitch caused it to lose touch with its lander, which crashed while making its final descent to deploy a rover to search for signs of water. The new mission has built on the lessons learned from the earlier landing attempt.

If touchdown is successful, the mission lander and rover will collect science data on the surface for up to 14 Earth days (a single day on the moon). The six-wheeled lander and rover module of Chandrayaan-3 is configured with payloads that will provide data to the scientific community on the properties of lunar soil and rocks, including chemical and elemental compositions. 

A successful landing would make India the fourth country – after the United States, the Soviet Union and China – to achieve the feat. According to ISRO, the main objective of the mission this time was not studying the lunar surface, but rather simply a safe and soft landing on the moon. 

With India emerging as the world’s fifth-largest economy, its government is eager to show off the country’s prowess in security and technology. India is using research from space and elsewhere to solve problems at home. Its space programme has already helped develop satellite, communication and remote-sensing technologies and has been used to gauge underground water levels and predict weather in the country, which is prone to cycles of drought and flood.

India is also looking forward to its first mission to the International Space Station next year, in collaboration with the US as part of recent agreements between presidents Narendra Modi and Joe Biden at the White House.

This one-off visit by an Indian astronaut to the International Space Station will precede India launching its first astronaut from Indian soil on an Indian rocket in late 2024.