India’s space agency, ISRO, successfully launched Chandrayaan-3, its third lunar exploration mission, on Friday, July 14, 2023, at 2:35 pm IST (9:05 UTC) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. The mission aims to demonstrate a soft landing on the lunar surface and deploy a rover to conduct scientific experiments.
Chandrayaan-3 consists of a lander and a rover similar to Chandrayaan-2, but does not have an orbiter. Instead, it has a propulsion module that will act as a communication relay satellite between the lander and the Earth. The propulsion module will carry the lander and rover configuration until the spacecraft is in a 100 km lunar orbit.
The lander, named Vikram after the father of India’s space programme Vikram Sarabhai, is designed to perform a soft landing on a flat plain near the lunar south pole. The landing site is located at 69.367621 S, 32.348126 E, and has been selected based on high-resolution images from Chandrayaan-2 orbiter. The landing is expected to take place on August 23, 2023.
The rover, named Pragyan meaning ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit, is housed inside the lander and will be deployed after the landing. The rover is powered by solar energy and has a planned mission life of one lunar day (14 Earth days). The rover will move on six wheels and carry two scientific instruments: an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to measure the elemental composition of the lunar soil, and a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) to identify minerals and detect water ice.
The lander will also carry four scientific payloads: a Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive ionosphere and Atmosphere (RAMBHA) to study the lunar ionosphere, a Chandra’s Surface Thermo physical Experiment (ChaSTE) to measure the thermal conductivity of the lunar soil, an Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) to detect moonquakes, and a Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) to enable accurate measurements of the lunar orbit and distance.
The propulsion module will also carry one payload: a Spectro-polarimetry of HAbitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) to observe the Earth’s atmosphere and polarization.
The total mass of Chandrayaan-3 is 3900 kg, with 2148 kg for the propulsion module and 1752 kg for the lander module including the rover of 26 kg.
Chandrayaan-3 is ISRO’s follow-up attempt after the Chandrayaan-2 mission faced challenges during its soft landing on the lunar surface in September 2019 and was eventually deemed to have failed its core mission objectives. However, Chandrayaan-2 orbiter continues to orbit around the moon and provide valuable data.
Chandrayaan-3 is also a precursor to the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission (LUPEX), a joint mission between India and Japan planned for 2025. LUPEX will aim to land near the lunar south pole and explore its potential for human habitation and resource utilization.
Chandrayaan-3 was launched on board a Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM3 M4), ISRO’s most powerful rocket capable of carrying heavy payloads to geostationary orbit or beyond. The launch was witnessed by thousands of people at the launch site and millions more through live telecast and webcast.
ISRO Chairman Dr. K Sivan congratulated the launch team and said that Chandrayaan-3 was a “very important mission” for India’s space programme. He also thanked the European Space Agency (ESA) for providing tracking support through its European Space Tracking (ESTRACK) network.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also hailed the launch as a “proud moment” for India and said that Chandrayaan-3 would “enhance our understanding of the moon”. He also praised ISRO for its “remarkable achievements” in space exploration.
Chandrayaan-3 is expected to reach the moon in about six days and perform several orbital maneuvers before attempting the landing. ISRO will provide regular updates on the mission status through its website and social media platforms.