India successfully launched their first mission to the surface of the Moon on July 22. This ambitious mission to our nearest neighbor includes an orbiter, lander and rover. If successful, this Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) mission will make India just the fourth nation to land a vehicle safely on the lunar surface.
The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR at Sriharikota on the southeastern coast of India at 2:43 pm IST (5:13 am EDT). A crowd of 7,500 people watched the launch live from the launch center.
“Today is a historical day for Space Science and Technology in India. I am extremely happy to announce that GSLV MkIII-M1 successfully injected Chandrayaan-2 into… orbit,” ISRO Chairman Dr. K. Sivan stated.
The GSLV MkIII-M1 launch vehicle, powered by a pair of S200 solid-fuel rocket boosters, performed flawlessly, placing its payload into space. The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft deployed its solar array, and the vehicle is currently in Earth orbit, preparing for its journey to the Moon.
This is Many Steps Above Parallel Parking…
The spacecraft will remain in orbit above the Earth until it is time to head for the Moon. Once the spacecraft enters its Lunar Transfer Trajectory and travels to our planetary companion, thrusters will slow the vehicle down, allowing the gravitational field of the Moon to capture the spacecraft. A series of orbital maneuvers will then alter the trajectory of the craft, until its orbit is a near-perfect circle, hovering 100 kilometers (63 miles) above the lunar surface.
“On the day of landing, the Lander (Vikram) will separate from the orbiter and then will perform a series of complex maneuvers comprising of rough braking and fine braking. Imaging of the landing site region prior to landing will be done for finding safe and hazard-free zones,” the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) reports.
Braking maneuvers will lower the orbiter from a circular orbit 100 km above the lunar surface, to a more elliptical path, coming as close as 30 km (18.6 miles) above its target world. While circling the Moon, the orbiter will study our planetary companion with eight instruments.
A Day Trip that Lasts a Fortnight
On September 7, 2019, engineers plan to set the Vikram lander down between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N. This target is located at 70 degrees south latitude, in the south polar region of the Moon, where reservoirs of water ice hide within darkened craters.
A trio of experiments aboard Vikram includes the Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive ionosphere and Atmosphere (RAMBHA) instrument. This experiment will examine plasma at the lunar surface under changing solar conditions.
Chandra’s Surface Thermo-physical Experiment (ChaSTE) will utilize sensors and heater placed 10 cm (four inches) into the crust to measure the movement of heat in the lunar surface.
The Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) looks for moonquakes in the landing area, using a three-axis seismometer.
While on the Moon, the lander will communicate with human operators on the ground, as well as its companion rover and orbiter.
1,477 kilogram (3,250 pound) lander is equipped with three active and one passive experiment to help researchers better understand our planetary neighbor. The entire system runs on 650 Watts of electricity, roughly the amount of energy consumed by a vacuum cleaner or a slow cooker.
The lander is named in honor of Dr. Vikram A. Sarabhai, the founding father of India’s space program.
Here, Rover! Here, Rover!
Once the pair are safely on the ground, the Pragyan rover will be released from the lander, and start to carry our experiments on the lunar surface. The robotic explorer will study the mineralogy, chemical composition, and topography of the lunar surface, as well as the tenuous atmosphere of the Moon.
The Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) will examine the composition of the lunar surface. This device utilizes radioactive Curium (244), which emits alpha particles (the nuclei of helium atoms), as well as X-rays. The APXS instrument uses each of these forms of radiation examining lunar samples.
The Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope will fire high-powered lasers unto the lunar surface, and measure the radiation released as plasma from the pulses decay.
Meanwhile, the Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA), a passive device aboard the rover, will assist researchers studying the Earth/Moon system, as well as the interior of our planetary companion.
The 26 kilogram (57 pound), 50-watt rover will roam around its landing site using a system of six wheels. It will study the lunar surface with a pair of scientific instruments, and send its data to the nearby lander for relay to Earth.
The vehicle is designed to travel 500 meters (1,650 feet) before lunar night falls, shutting off power, forever, to both the rover and lander.
The name, Pragyan, means ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit.
Rocket Away, Robot Bird…
On July 15, 2019, engineers determined the launch vehicle suffered a technical problem, and delayed the launch for a week while the issue was ironed out.
The three-stage rocket, developed by ISRO, consists of two solid rocket boosters, a core liquid-fuel booster, and cryogenic upper stage. The vehicle is capable of lifting 10-ton payloads into low-Earth orbit, or four tons into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).
An Eagle Eye on the Moon
While the lander and rover explore the lunar surface, the Chandrayaan orbiter will carry data from those two craft, sending it back to Earth for analysis.
For nearly a year after the pair of craft on the surface fall silent, the orbiter will be returning science to Earth.
Surveys for 3-D map of the lunar surface will be conducted by the Terrain Mapping Camera 2 (TMC 2). This instrument will chart any feature on the surface larger than five meters (16 feet) in size.
With a resolution of .32 meters (13 inches), the Orbiter High Resolution Camera (OHRC) will assist during touchdown procedures for the lander/rover system, as it searches for hazards present in potential landing spots.
Once on the lunar surface, the Dual Frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar (DFSAR) will create high-resolution maps of the polar regions of the Moon. The instrument will also estimate the depth of the lunar regolith (crust) and measure the availability of water in the region.
The Imaging IR Spectrometer (IIRS) will measure solar radiation coming off the Moon, detect volatile materials and conduct a detailed search for evidence of water.
The CLASS spectrometer will examine X-rays for signs of elements like silicon, titanium, and sodium in the lunar crust, as they interact with solar rays. This experiment is supported by the Solar X-Ray Monitor (XSM). The CHACE 2 spectrograph will examine the Moon’s exosphere — the outermost reaches of atmosphere.
Finally, the Dual Frequency Radio Science experiment (DFRS) will broadcast continuous radio signals, testing how electrons move through the Moon’s atmosphere over time.
India in the Space Age
This launch marks the second time the world’s most-populous nation has sent a spacecraft to the Moon, but this will be the first time a lander is part of the mission. If successful, India will become just the fourth nation to place a payload on the lunar surface, following the Soviet Union, the United States and China. Until this year, only the U.S. and Russia had accomplished that feat. An attempt by Israel to soft-land a vehicle on the Moon in April failed when the Beresheet spacecraft crash-landed on the lunar surface.
Once dominated by two main powers, the exploration of space is now being joined by other nations, as well as private corporations and wealthy benefactors. Each of these bands of explorers has a chance of becoming the next to place a person on the lunar surface.
NASA has announced their intention to place human travelers, including the first woman on the Moon, on the lunar surface in 2024.
While NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, SpaceX founder Elon Musk told Time Magazine that his organization could place a person on the Moon in just two to four years.
“Certainly with an uncrewed vehicle I believe we could land on the moon in two years. So then maybe within a year or two of that we could be sending crew. I would say four years at the outside,” Musk stated.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission is designed to test India’s ability to launch and manage a lunar mission star to finish. The mission also gives ISRO a chance to test facilities here on Earth, including the Indian Deep Space Network, Spacecraft Control Centre and Indian Space Science Data Centre.
The Chandrayaan-1 orbiter, launched on October 22, 2008, successfully entered orbit around the Moon, where it carried out a series of experiments. That mission ended on August 29, 2009, when controllers lost communication with the vehicle after more than 3.400 orbits around our nearest neighbor in space .
Both the lander and rover are expected to last one lunar day (14 Earth days) and the orbiter is designed for a mission lifetime of one year.
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