India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission, which launched on July 14 from the country’s main space base in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, has entered its current critical phase. This mission has the goal of landing a spacecraft on the lunar south pole, with major implications for India’s status as a space power and future lunar exploration.
After passing through the expanding orbit of the Earth, the craft shifted to lunar orbit and received national and global attention after Russia’s failed attempt to land on the moon’s south pole.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission is aimed at the moon’s south pole, a region thought to have water ice or frozen water, which could be a source of oxygen, fuel and water for future lunar missions or more permanent lunar colonies.
If it lands successfully, the Chandrayaan-3 probe is expected to remain functional for two weeks, carrying out a series of experiments including spectrometer analysis of the mineral composition of the lunar surface.
The Chandrayaan-3 lander is about 2 m tall and has a mass of just over 1,700 kg, comparable to an SUV. Designed to launch smaller lunar rovers with a mass of 26 kg. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the US space agency “looks forward” to learning from the Indian mission.
Challenges of Exploration Missions to the Moon
India’s previous attempt to land on the moon’s south pole failed in 2019. Chandrayaan-2 successfully launched an orbiter, but its lander and rover were destroyed in a crash near the location where Chandrayaan-3 would attempt to land.
The rough terrain is one of the complications in landing at the South Pole. ISRO scientists say they have made adjustments that make the chances of the current mission successfully landing higher. This includes a system to expand the potential landing zone and the lander is equipped with more fuel and sturdier legs for crash resistance.
The mission has high political and economic stakes. A successful mission would make India the fourth country to successfully land on the Moon, after the Soviet Union, the United States and China, and mark its emergence as a space power, just before national elections next year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is also seeking to stimulate investment in private space launches and related satellite-based businesses. India wants its private space companies to increase their share of the global launch market fivefold in the next decade.
Modi said when the Moon mission was launched that ISRO was writing “a new chapter in India’s space mission” and uplifting “the dreams and ambitions of every Indian”. ISRO plans to broadcast the planned landing from 11.50 GMT on Wednesday.