By Mac Molli
India successfully launched their second lunar mission yesterday at Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota at 2:43 pm local time. Their mission, Chandrayaan-2 which translates to moon-craft in sanskrit, will land on the moon using their Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mk III). The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is lead by Dr. Kailasavadivoo Sivan who called the event, “A historical day for space and science and technology in India.” The launch was originally scheduled for July 15th, but was delayed just before launch due to a ‘technical snag’.
The mission cost over ₹10 billion (nearly $145 billion) and marks many firsts for the ISRO. The scientific goal of this mission is to further improve the understanding of the origin and evolution of the moon. The lunar lander will land on the Moon’s South Pole, which is a first for any spacecraft. The South Pole is believed to hold huge amounts of water ice on the floors of permanently shadowed craters. The spacecraft will also search for minerals on the moon and measure moonquakes. If they touchdown successfully, they will join the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, and China to land a spacecraft on the moon.
The mission is crewless, only consisting of an orbiter, lander, and rover onboard. The orbiter will take images of the lunar surface for one year; the lander, Vikram, will analyze the lunar soil; the rover can travel half a kilometer from the lander and will send images and data to Earth for analysis.
The 239,000 mile journey will take over six weeks, compared to the Apollo 11 mission 50 years ago that took four days. India doesn’t have a rocket powerful enough to propel Chandrayaan-2 to the moon on a direct path, so the IRSO calculated a route using Earth gravity to slingshot the spaceship to the Moon in order to save fuel. According to the mission's schedule, Chandrayaan-2 will spend 23 days orbiting Earth, gradually raising its altitude on one side of an elliptical orbit around the planet. In mid-August, it will turn its sights on the moon by completing a series of maneuvers to leave Earth’s orbit and begin circling the moon. According to the Hindustan Times, Chandrayaan-2 will spend less time orbiting the moon than previously planned in order to accommodate the launch delay.
In the first week of September, the orbiter will release the Vikram lander. If the landing is successful, the lander will deploy the rover a few hours later. Dr. Sivan states, "There will be 15 terrifying minutes for scientists once the lander is released and is hurled towards the south pole of the Moon."
He explained that those who had been controlling the spacecraft until then would have no role to play in those crucial moments. So the landing would happen only if all the systems performed as they should, otherwise the lander could crash into the lunar surface.
When the Vikram lander reaches the moon’s south pole, it will look at the water ice located in permanently shadowed craters that have been in the interest of scientists since its discovery in August of 2018. Many of the payloads onboard the lander and rover are designed to map and analyze the ice.