Chandrayaan 2 - India's Next Leap Into Space

Image: News18.com

Image: News18.com

On October 22 2008, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched its maiden mission to moon termed as Chandrayaan-1 mission onboard a PSLV rocket to explore the secrets of our celestial neighbour. There were two payloads onboard, a lunar orbiter and a lunar impactor. The impactor prime objective was to disturb the surface at the landing site and collect samples for analysis. The impactor also enabled India to become the fourth country to put its flag on the Moon, after the US, the former Soviet Union, and Japan. The spacecraft orbited around the Moon at a height of 100 km from the lunar surface for collecting chemical, mineralogical and photo-geologic mapping of the Moon. The spacecraft carried 11 scientific instruments built in India, USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, and Bulgaria.

 

 After the successful completion of all the major mission objectives, the orbit had been raised to 200 km during May 2009. The satellite made more than 3400 orbits around the moon and the mission was concluded when the communication with the spacecraft was lost on August 29, 2009.

Even before the launch of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, ISRO was already making plans for the follow up Chandrayaan-2 mission. In September 2008 itself, the Chandrayaan-2 mission was approved by the government for a cost of Rs 425 crore and as of June 2019, the mission has an allocated cost of Rs 978 crore. The mission was an important step in India’s plans for planetary exploration, a program known as Planetary Science and Exploration (PLANEX).

India’s second mission to the moon is more advanced than its predecessor. There are three important components of the mission, an orbiter, a lander and a rover.  The orbiter which weighs 2379 kg carries eight scientific instruments; two of them are improved versions of those flown on Chandrayaan-1. The Orbiter High-Resolution Camera (OHRC) will conduct high-resolution observations of the landing site before the separation of the lander from the orbiter. The orbiter's structure was manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and delivered to ISRO Satellite Centre on 22 June 2015. The mission life of the Orbiter is one year and it will be placed in a 100X100 km lunar polar orbit. The mission's lander is called Vikram named after Vikram Sarabhai, who is widely regarded as the founder of the Indian space programme. It weighs 1471 kgs and is designed to function for one lunar day, which is equivalent to about 14 Earth days. Vikram has the capability to communicate with Indian Deep Space Network which is a network of large antennas and communication facilities, as well as with the Orbiter and Rover. The Lander is designed to execute a soft landing on the lunar surface. The mission's rover is called Pragyan. The rover's mass is about 27 kg (60 lb) and will operate on solar power. The rover will move on 6 wheels traversing 500 meters on the lunar surface at the rate of 1 cm per second, performing on-site chemical analysis and sending the data to the lander, which will relay it to the Mission Control on the Earth. For navigation purposes, the rover uses stereoscopic camera-based 3D vision along with control and motor dynamics. The expected operating time of Pragyan rover is one lunar day or around 14 Earth days as its electronics are not expected to endure the frigid lunar night. However, its power system has a solar-powered sleep/wake-up cycle implemented, which could result in longer service time than planned.

Chandrayaan-2 was initially scheduled for 14 July 2019. However, the launch was aborted 56 minutes and 24 seconds before the launch due to a technical glitch and was rescheduled to 22 July 2019. Indian media have reported that a leak from a helium gas bottle in the cryogenic engine of the rocket was to blame. Finally, Chandrayaan-2 was launched on-board the GSLV MK III M1 launch vehicle on 22 July 2019 at 09:13 UTC (14:43 IST). The lift-off was broadcast live on TV and the space agency's official social media accounts. It is the most complex mission ever attempted by India's space agency.

The launch is only the beginning of a 384,000km (239,000-mile) journey - ISRO is still hoping the lander will touch down on the Moon on 6 or 7 September as planned, despite the week-long delay of the launch. The mission is entirely indigenous and is more of a technological mission than a scientific one. The primary goal of this mission is to test the soft-landing capabilities, as well as the semi-autonomous movement of the Rover. The mission has deepened the links between the space agency and the private industry and has fostered the creation of many new indigenous technologies. The Chandrayaan-2 mission will allow ISRO to take its scientific studies of the moon to the next level. The scientific goals of the mission include analyzing the surface samples and to learn more about the origin and evolution of the Moon.

The rover is set to make the soft landing on the Moon on September 7 and If the landing is successful, it will make India just the fourth nation to complete a soft landing on the moon, after the US, USSR, and China to achieve the feat and the first to land near the south pole. That’s particularly important because the south pole of the moon has water ice in some of its craters, making it a promising target for human exploration.

Abhiram PratheekComment