India’s Lunar Mission

You may have recently been hearing a lot of buzz (pun intended) about Chandrayaan-2, which was India’s second lunar exploration mission. It was launched on 22nd July 2019, at 2:43 PM IST (Indian Standard Time).

The planned orbit of Chandrayaan-2 will be its closest to Earth at 170km, and its farthest from Earth at 45475km. The spacecraft consists of a lunar orbiter, lander and a rover called Pragyan. This mission has been set on its course with the aim of finding out a location and quantity of lunar water.

Once the lander and rover land on the moon, the Pragyan rover will then proceed to move about the surface and perform an on-site chemical analysis, the results of which will be relayed to the Earth station through the orbiter and lander. The analysis will take place over 14 days, which is 1 lunar day.

This mission plan has been in the works since 12th November 2007, over 10 years ago, when ISRO and the Russian Federal Space Agency, which is called Roscosmos, signed an agreement to work together, where Russia would provide a lander. It was their inability to provide a lander even by 2015 that made India decide to proceed with the mission independently of Russia and develop their own lander as well. After this decision, the new deadline had been set for March 2018, but it got delayed first to April, and then to October of that same year for extensive tests on the spacecraft. Following that, multiple changes were made to the configuration, which pushed the launch even further, into 2019. Finally, after many such delays, India was able to boast of a successful launch on the 22nd of July 2019.

On the 20th of August 2019, Chandrayaan 2 safely entered lunar orbit at 09:02 IST. The lander, which was named Vikram, will separate from the orbiter on the 2nd of September, and is expected to complete its descent onto the moon by 7th September.

An image of lunar surface released by ISRO after Chandrayaan 2 entered lunar orbit.

You may also be wondering why this lunar mission was titled Chandrayaan-2. That is because India has previously launched another lunar mission in 2008, titled Chandrayaan-1. That mission operated for a year, from October 2008 till August 2009, and it included a lunar orbiter and an impactor, which is similar to a lander, in that it is used to make a landing on the moon. The difference between the two is that an impactor makes a harder landing and is damaged by the same and ceases to function. The mission was intended to run for 2 years, but before it completed a year, they started facing technical issues, and the spacecraft stopped sending radio signals on the 28th of August 2009, after which the USRO declared the mission as over. This meant that the mission ended up running for only 312 days, but still achieved 95% of its planned objectives, which was considered a success.

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