As millions watched the live telecast of Chandrayaan-3 mission with bated breath on their television and mobile screens, India became the first country ever to make a successful landing on the lunar south pole. Chandrayaan-3’s lander ‘Vikram’, successfully landed on the moon at 6.03 pm India time on Wednesday. It demonstrated a safe and soft landing on the lunar surface, one of the key objectives of the mission. "We have achieved soft landing on the moon, India is on the moon," Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief S Somanath said, moments after the historic landing. With this, India has joined the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China as the fourth country to accomplish a soft landing on the moon’s surface. This is India’s second attempt to land on the lunar south pole and a highly anticipated mission, even more so after Luna-25, Russia’s lunar lander failed to enter the pre-landing orbit just days earlier on August 19 due to an engine failure.
Why Is The Lunar South Pole Significant For Exploration?
Moon, earth’s nearest cosmic neighbour, serves as an ideal proving ground for deep-space expeditions. India’s entry to an unexplored territory i.e the lunar south pole will not only enrich our understanding of the lunar realm but also explore the possibility of life on the earth's only natural satellite. According to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the lunar south pole is especially intriguing because the lunar surface area that remains in shadow is much larger than that at the north pole. The lander payloads in the Chandrayaan-3 mission will be able to determine the elemental composition of lunar soil, measure seismicity around the landing site, and more.
Even though India has multiple satellites revolving around the moon, Chandrayaan-3 mission will help India access direct data from the surface, which in turn, will prove instrumental for future expeditions and exploring the possibility of life on the moon. According to ISRO, “the Lander will have the capability to soft land at a specified lunar site and deploy the Rover which will carry out in-situ chemical analysis of the lunar surface during the course of its mobility." Also, there could be a possibility of the presence of water in permanently shadowed areas around it. The south pole region has craters that are cold traps and hold a record of the solar system's early history.
Chandrayaan-3 Mission: Behind The Historic Landing
Chandrayaan-3, a follow-on mission to Chandrayaan-2, consists of an indigenous Lander module (LM), Propulsion module (PM) and a Rover. It was launched by LVM3 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on July 14. The primary job of the PM is to carry the LM from the launch vehicle to a circular polar orbit around the moon's final 100 km and then detache the LM from the PM. Additionally, the PM carries a scientific payload which is to be used after the Lander Module is separated. On August 5, Chandrayaan-3's lunar orbit insertion was successfully executed and the LM was successfully separated from the PM on August 17. Apart from demonstrating soft landing on the lunar surface, the mission also aims to demonstrate “rover roving” on the moon and conduct “in-situ scientific experiments”.
This is India’s third lunar exploration mission, after Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2. India's first mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1 was successfully launched on October 22, 2008 and operated until 2009, making India the fifth national space agency to reach the lunar surface. Almost a decade later, Chandrayaan-2 mission was successfully launched on July 22, 2019. The mission carried eight experimental payloads on board for studying surface geology, composition and exospheric measurements. It consisted of an Indian-developed lunar orbiter, along with the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover. The lander and rover were planned to land on the lunar south pole but the lander crashed after deviating from its intended trajectory due to a software glitch.
In an interview with The Hindustan Times, ISRO chief S. Somanath said, “During Chandrayaan-2, one of our mistakes was that we kept the landing spot to a limited area of 500m x 500m, this did not leave much room for error. We had also accumulated some of the errors the craft was facing and did not resolve it as and when it was happening; this caused the lander module to spin out of control while it was descending.”
On August 21, Chandrayaan-3's Lander Module established a two-way communication with the existing Chandrayaan-2's orbiter.
As India celebrates the mission’s successful landing on the moon’s lunar south pole, the rover operations will be far from over. Post landing, the lander and rover are expected to operate for nearly two weeks, during which it will conduct a series of experiments. These experiments will include a spectrometer analysis aimed at understanding the mineral composition of the lunar surface. The spacecraft will carry payloads “to measure the thermal conductivity and temperature; Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) for measuring the seismicity around the landing site”.
The success of Chandrayaan-3 will provide a major boost for the Indian and south asian space industry. Built on a budget of around Rs 615 crore, it has established ISRO as a leading agency for cost-effective space exploration. It will further enhance India’s collaborations with other premier space agencies, several of whom are already engaged in ambitious projects with ISRO like NASA in NISAR, Roscosmos in Gaganyaan etc.