Chandrayaan-3, India’s third mission to the moon, has taken off successfully — almost four years after its predecessor failed to touch down on the lunar surface in 2019.
On Friday, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched its ‘Launch Vehicle Mark-III’ rocket carrying the next Chandrayaan (Sanskrit for “moon vehicle”) from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in South India’s Sriharikota island. The launch happened at 2:35 p.m. IST (2:05 a.m. PDT), the target time that was announced last week.
“Chandrayaan-3 has started its journey towards [the] moon,” said ISRO chairman S. Somanath at the Mission Control Center following the spacecraft’s successful launch. “Our dear LVM-3 has already put Chandrayaan-3 craft into the precise orbit around Earth — 170×36,500 kilometers was its intended target orbit, and it is precisely they are now. Let us wish all the best for the Chandrayaan-3 craft to make its further orbit-raising maneuvers and travel toward [the] moon in the coming days.”
The Chandrayaan-3 mission — developed with a budget of less than $75 million — comprises a lander, rover and propulsion module, and is aiming to demonstrate safe landing and roving on the lunar surface and conduct on-site scientific experiences. The unmanned vehicle’s soft landing is expected on August 23.
With a total payload mass of approximately 3,895 kilograms, the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft carries a range of technologies such as laser and RF-based altimeters, velocimeters, throttleable liquid engines, hazard detection and avoidance systems as well as a new landing leg mechanism. ISRO has taken special measures and improved its onboard equipment to try to avoid any issues when making a soft landing on the lunar surface. Further, the rover underwent a series of testing and simulations to work on addressing the weaknesses of the previous system.
Unlike the last Chandrayaan, which crashed while landing on the moon due to a software glitch, the new version has the orbiter stripped of secondary payloads to focus on its primary job: take the lander and rover to a hundred-kilometer lunar orbit. The lander, on the other hand, has received a number of changes to handle higher velocities of landing. The space agency has also added solar power and a bi-propellant propulsion system with more propellant to handle fluctuations in fuel levels and other uncertainties. Further, there are software-side improvements, with updated control and guidance algorithms and support for managing multiple paths to the surface.
The Chandrayaan mission aims to better understand the moon by allowing scientific experiments on its chemical and natural elements, as well as its soil and water. This would eventually help scientists understand how the material that makes up the lunar surface can be harnessed to meet our growing energy demands.
With Chandrayaan-3, India wants to become the fourth country to make a soft landing on the moon, after the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and China, and the first country to make its locally-produced vehicle land on the south pole.
“It is indeed a moment of glory for India and a moment of destiny for all of us here at Sriharikota, who are a part of the history-making,” said Jitendra Singh, India’s minister of state for space and atomic energy, while addressing ISRO scientists on the mission’s launch.
Space has become a key interest for India over the past few years. The South Asian nation has made notable progress toward space exploration with over a hundred spacetech startups developing solutions ranging from launch vehicles to satellites and hyperspectral earth imaging. New Delhi also recently passed a space policy to ease collaboration between private players and government bodies.
In addition to Chandrayaan, ISRO has long planned its first human space flight mission, Gaganyaan. The space agency is also working on a mission called Aditya L1 to study the sun. Additionally, it is closely working with NASA to launch a low-Earth orbit (LEO) observatory in 2024 that projects to map the entire planet in just 12 days, and provide consistent data for analyzing changes in Earth’s ecosystems, ice mass, vegetation biomass, sea level and natural disasters and hazards.
Last month, India signed NASA’s Artemis Accords to collaborate on space exploration with the program’s participating nations. NASA also agreed to provide advanced training to Indian astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and send them to the International Space Station next year.