Chandrayaan-3: India’s Historic Moon Mission Explained

India again reaches for the stars with its space exploration endeavour, Chandrayaan3. After preparations, the Chandrayaan3 spacecraft embarked on a mission on July 14, 2023, aiming to uncover the mysteries that still surround the Moon. This ambitious undertaking by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) signifies an advancement not only for ISRO but also for the wider space community.

Chandrayaan-3 mission, if successful, will show off India’s expanding space capabilities and advance our knowledge of our planet’s neighbour, i.e., our natural satellite. It will contribute to our comprehension of the Moon’s captivating mysteries. As the Chandrayaan3 spacecraft hurtles through space towards a landing endeavour, here is an encompassing guide to the ISRO mission targeting the south pole of our celestial neighbour, the Moon.

What is Chandrayaan-3? An Ambitious Second Chance at a Milestone Moon Landing

Chandrayaan-3 mission marks India’s exploration endeavour to land a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface for the second time. The mission comprises an orbiter, a lander named Vikram, and a rover that will collaborate to research once Chandrayaan3 reaches orbit. The mission has two goals: first, to deploy the Pragyan rover and safely explore the surface of the landing site and second, for the Vikram lander to successfully touch down near the pole.

Chandrayaan 3 is the mission following Chandrayaan 2, which was launched in 2019. While it faced a crash landing that caused damage to its lander and rover, it did manage to install an orbiter. Despite this setback, ISRO has made clear that Chandrayaan3 will launch in 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and other technical hurdles postponed the ISRO mission until its successful liftoff in 2023.

Chandrayaan 3 is given another opportunity to achieve what its predecessor couldn’t—a landing on the surface of the moon. India will join a group of three countries, consisting of the United States, Russia, and China, if the landing is successful. They have successfully landed spacecraft on the Moon.

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Facts About Chandrayaan-3

The objective of the Chandrayaan-3 mission is to touch down in the region of the Moon, specifically between two craters known as Manzinus C and Simpelius N. This area remains unexplored far, contrasting with lunar landings that mostly occur near the equator.

Key facts about Chandrayan mission:

  • The Vikram lander weighs 1,750 kg, 280 kg more than its predecessor. The extra weight comes from design improvements and additional fuel carried.
  • The lander and rover weigh 3,877 kg, close to the GSLV MkIII’s maximum capacity to send objects to the Moon.
  • The mission will spend around 23 days in lunar orbit before attempting to land on August 23.
  • To provide more flexibility, the targeted landing site is spread across 4 km x 2.4 km, larger than last time.
  • The rover Pragyan is powered by solar energy and has a lifetime of 1 lunar day (14 Earth days).
  • Vikram has hazard avoidance cameras to detect and avoid boulders or craters during landing.
  • The lander’s legs have been strengthened to cushion the impact on the rugged south pole surface.
  • Vikram is carrying NASA’s Laser Retroreflector Array for studies related to Earth-Moon gravitation.

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Chandrayaan Phases: What Happens After Launch?

Soon after launching the GSLV MkIII rocket from Sriharikota onboard, Chandrayaan-3 will spend 23 days on Earth and lunar orbits before landing on the Moon. Here is an overview of the key mission phases:

  • Earth Orbiting Phase: The spacecraft first enters an elliptical orbit around Earth, gradually making wider through orbit-raising manoeuvres over 5 days. This progressive increase in apogee takes Chandrayaan-3 farther away from Earth.
  • Trans-Lunar Injection: A final burn of the onboard propulsion system pushes the spacecraft onto a lunar transfer trajectory, escaping Earth’s influence. This manoeuvre happens around 6 days after launch.
  • Lunar Orbit Insertion: Around 16 days after launch, Chandrayaan-3 fires its engines again to slow down and be captured by the Moon’s gravity into an initial elliptical lunar orbit.
  • Lunar Orbit Maneuvers: The next 7 days are spent reducing the altitude through incremental orbital corrections until Chandrayaan-3 enters a circular 100 km x 100 km orbit.
  • Powered Descent: This phase starts on August 23 when the lander separates from the orbiter and initiates vertical descent towards the planned landing spot on the south pole.
  • Vikram Touchdown: After a terrifying 15 minutes known as “15 minutes of terror”, Vikram will attempt history’s first-ever soft landing near the lunar south pole.
  • Pragyan Rover Deployment: If the landing is successful, the Pragyan rover will emerge from Vikram in the coming days and start exploring the surface.

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Countdown to Landing: The Daring Maneuvers Required for a Soft Touchdown

The Chandrayaan-3 lander faces immense challenges to safely touchdown on the rugged, unexplored lunar terrain. The process will demand a precisely choreographed sequence of manoeuvres over the final terrifying minutes of the descent phase, known as the “15 Minutes of Terror.”

First, the lander will descend from its initial orbital height 30 km above the Moon’s surface. It will fire onboard thrusters to slow down from a speed of nearly 2 km/s to almost zero for a soft landing.

At about 7 km up, the lander will transition from horizontal flight to a vertical alignment to prepare for the surface. This crucial manoeuvre posed a problem for the Chandrayaan-2 lander, resulting in its crash. Chandrayaan-3 has more onboard fuel and sturdier legs to avoid a repeat outcome.

In the final stage, starting around 2 km from the surface, the lander will use hazard avoidance cameras and guidance systems to identify and steer towards a smooth landing zone. Its descent speed will slow to just 1 m/s in the last few seconds before contact, when its legs should absorb the final shock and bring the lander to rest in one piece.

If successful, these precisely calibrated actions will lead to a historic achievement for ISRO’s mission and open up an exciting new era of South Pole exploration. The world will be watching with bated breath to see if Chandrayaan-3 can overcome the final frontier of a soft Moon landing.

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What happens if Chandrayaan-3 is successful?

Safely landing on the hazardous, uneven terrain of the South Pole will highlight ISRO’s ability to touchdown under extreme conditions. This establishes India as a spacefaring power possessing masterful engineering skills. Chandrayaan-3’s attempt to soft-land on the lunar south pole carries great scientific and technological significance for multiple reasons.

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Uncovering the Lunar South Pole’s Secrets

The South Pole is a unique region, completely unexplored by any previous missions that have only landed near the equator. Chandrayaan-3 will help reveal secrets about the composition, topography, and origins of the Moon’s mysterious south pole.

The area is rich in minerals and harbours water ice within permanently shadowed craters. This indicates the presence of life-essential resources and forms a basis for future lunar habitation. Extremely cold temperatures have preserved ancient rocks from meteorite impacts, offering insights into lunar evolution.

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Demonstrating New Capabilities

Landing on the rugged, uneven terrain of the South Pole will demonstrate ISRO’s ability to touch down under extreme conditions. This sets the technology benchmark higher, paving the path for future human exploration.

Mastering a soft landing on a celestial body like the Moon requires remarkable engineering. Success will firmly establish India’s spacefaring credentials alongside the few global peers to have achieved this.

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Future Lunar Base Site

The south pole’s water, ice, and mineral resources make it an ideal candidate site for a future lunar base. Understanding the local environment and soil properties is crucial to enable long-term habitation.

Chandrayaan-3’s observations will inform eventual human settlement on the Moon under the inhospitable polar conditions. Its success is a stepping stone to sustainable living and working from the lunar surface.

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Scientific Discovery

The lunar south pole remains scientifically unexplored, and the Chandrayaan-3 mission promises to unveil its many mysteries. Its ancient rocks and minerals will help reconstruct the Moon’s origin story. The solar wind interactions and plasma environment can be studied.

Chandrayaan-3 uses instruments to analyze surface composition, seismic activity, heat flow, etc. These observations will enrich our understanding of the Moon and the wider Solar System.

In many ways, the current ISRO mission marks a giant leap forward in India’s lunar exploration. Its success will bring tremendous scientific and technical gains while capturing national pride and global attention.

Forward to the Moon: Innovations and Upgrades Powering Chandrayaan-3

Chandrayaan-3 mission benefits from key improvements ISRO scientists made based on lessons learned from the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Their ingenious innovations have enhanced the lander’s capabilities and odds of a smooth landing.

  • The Vikram lander received several major upgrades, including more robust legs for impact absorption, redundant sensors for hazard detection, and an expanded onboard fuel capacity. The four-legged lander has a widened landing zone, giving it more target options during descent.
  • The Pragyan rover sheltered within Vikram has an upgraded battery and thermal control system to sustain surface operations under extreme south pole temperatures.
  • The powerful GSLV MkIII rocket trusted first to launch Chandrayaan-3 has demonstrated four successful flights since its development. Improvements were made to its cryogenic upper stage after the Chandrayaan-2 launch.
  • These cutting-edge new technologies and the team’s careful failure analysis boost Chandrayaan-3’s chances and highlight the talent powering India’s 21st-century space program.

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Exploring the Lunar Frontier: Science Goals of the Chandrayaan-3 Mission

While a successful landing would make history, Chandrayaan-3’s science goals also hold huge significance. The instruments aboard the orbiter, lander and rover will conduct diverse experiments to enrich our understanding of the Moon.

Chandrayaan-3 will study the lunar surface, interior, atmosphere, and environment across diverse disciplines:

  • Surface Mapping

The orbiter will produce high-resolution 3D maps of the lunar surface using its terrain mapping camera and visible imaging spectrometer. This data will help select future landing sites.

  • Mineralogy

The imaging spectrometer will map surface mineral composition, while the rover’s spectrometers will analyze soil samples at the landing site. This will reveal the Moon’s chemical makeup.

  • Geology

The orbiter’s dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar will penetrate below the surface to locate buried water ice. The rover will examine soil structure, grain size, and rocks to understand lunar geology.

  • Seismology

The seismometer aboard the Vikram lander can characterize moonquakes and subsurface faults to study the lunar interior structure down to its core.

  • Lunar Environment

Instruments like the Langmuir probe will measure the tenuous plasma atmosphere on the surface. The lunar laser ranging experiment will precisely measure the Earth-Moon distance.

Thus, Chandrayaan3 will pursue multi-disciplinary science across diverse areas, from lunar geology, seismology, and mineralogy to mapping the surface, ice deposits, and atmospheric plasma. These observations will help answer key questions about the Moon’s origins and history and unlock more secrets that could transform our understanding of Earth’s nearest neighbour.

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Giant Leap for India’s Space Program: Chandrayaan-3’s Lasting Impact

Beyond its immediate science returns, Chandrayaan3 represents a watershed moment and a giant leap forward for India’s space program. The remarkable lunar ambitions sparked in the 1960s by pioneers like Vikram Sarabhai have led ISRO to cutting-edge space technology through talent and determination. Landing on the Moon’s virtually unknown polar region will establish India as a leading space power. It highlights the nation’s 21st-century scientific prowess and opens up new possibilities for discovery.

As the countdown progresses toward Chandrayaan-3’s landing date, the exciting mission is a proud milestone for India’s spacefaring aspirations and its global stature in science and technology.

Advancing Lunar Exploration: Impact of Chandrayaan-3

The Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission promises to provide continuity to India’s Chandrayaan program while progressing lunar science and exploration.

  • Building on Chandrayaan-1 and -2

Chandrayaan-3 is built on the accomplishments of Chandrayaan-1 and -2 to enhance our knowledge about lunar characteristics further. Chandrayaan-1’s instruments first discovered water on the Moon in 2008.

  • Developing New Technologies

This ISRO mission will test upgraded technologies like the lander’s hazard avoidance capabilities, robust legs and sensors that can enable future landed missions under extreme conditions.

  • Expanding South Pole Understanding

For the first time, Chandrayaan-3 will unveil the composition, geology, seismicity, and other mysteries of the Moon’s unexplored south polar region.

  • Future Landing Site Selection

The mission’s high-resolution surface maps will help identify hazards and select optimal future landing sites for India and other space agencies.

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Future Lunar Settlement

Chandrayaan-3 will assess the environment and resources at the south pole, which could support establishing a permanent lunar base there. Thus, this ISRO mission promises to deliver continuity, new technologies, and uncharted science returns to expand the frontiers of lunar discovery and exploration for India and the world.