As India eagerly anticipates the successful launch of its third edition of the moon mission, Chandrayaan-3, the scientific community holds its breath. Let’s take a brief look at the evolution of India’s lunar expedition over the years.
The Government of India conceived the Chandrayaan programme, which was formally announced by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister, on August 15, 2003.
Years of hard work by scientists paid off when the inaugural mission, aboard ISRO’s trusted PSLV-C11 rocket, took off on October 22, 2008.
According to the Indian Space Research Organisation, PSLV-C11 was an enhanced version of the standard PSLV configuration. Weighing 320 tonnes at liftoff, the vehicle utilized larger strap-on motors to enhance its payload capability.
The spacecraft carried 11 scientific instruments developed in India, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, and Bulgaria. The mission was led by the renowned scientist Mayilsami Annadurai from Tamil Nadu, serving as the Mission Director of Chandrayaan-1.
The primary objective of the mission was to perform chemical, mineralogical, and photo-geologic mapping of the moon from an orbit at a height of 100 km above its surface. The mission successfully accomplished all its goals. Subsequently, in May 2009, the spacecraft’s orbit was further raised to 200 km.
Surpassing expectations, the satellite completed over 3,400 orbits around the moon. However, communication with the spacecraft was lost on August 29, 2009, leading to the conclusion of the mission, as announced by scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation.
The PSLV-C11 was designed and developed by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram.
Buoyed by the success of Chandrayaan-1, ISRO conceived Chandrayaan-2 as a more intricate mission. It involved an orbiter, a lander named Vikram, and a rover named Pragyan, with the goal of exploring the uncharted South Pole of the moon. The mission launched on July 22, 2019, and successfully entered lunar orbit on August 20 of the same year.
Each maneuver of the spacecraft was executed with precision. The separation of the lander, Vikram, from the orbiter went as planned, setting the stage for a landing on the lunar surface. However, during descent at an altitude of 2.1 km, communication with Vikram was lost, resulting in an unfortunate end to the mission. Vikram was named after the late Vikram Sarabhai, often regarded as the father of India’s space program.
The inability to achieve a soft landing on the moon’s surface left the ISRO team disheartened. Images of an emotional K Sivan, the then ISRO Chief, being consoled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who witnessed the event at the ISRO headquarters, remain etched in the memories of many.
Chandrayaan-2 aimed to expand our understanding of the moon through an extensive study of topography, seismography, mineral distribution and identification, surface chemical composition, and thermo-physical characteristics of the topsoil. The mission sought to gain new insights into the origin and evolution of the moon.
The upcoming Chandrayaan-3 mission, scheduled for Friday, focuses on achieving a successful soft landing on the moon’s surface. If successful, India will become the fourth country, after the United States, China, and the former Soviet Union, to accomplish this remarkable feat.
Friday’s Chandrayaan-3 mission follows the Chandrayaan-2, which aimed to master the soft landing on the moon’s surface. A successful landing would position India among the elite group of nations that have achieved this milestone in lunar exploration.