India’s Chandrayaan-3 Successfully Enters Moon Orbit, Sets Sights on South Pole

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has announced that their most recent Moon mission, Chandrayaan-3, has successfully entered the lunar orbit. The spacecraft, carrying an orbiter, lander, and rover, was launched on 14 July and plans to land on the Moon’s surface between 23 and 24 August. If all goes to plan, India will be the first nation to land in the Moon’s less-explored south pole, making it only the fourth country to achieve a soft lunar landing after the US, the former Soviet Union, and China.

Chandrayaan-3 spent over a week orbiting Earth before using a slingshot manoeuvre to propel it into the translunar orbit last Tuesday. This mission follows up on India’s earlier lunar explorations, aiming to push further into the mysteries of the Moon.

The first of these missions occurred in 2008, and it made a surprising discovery: water molecules exist on the Moon’s arid surface. It also proved that the Moon has an atmosphere during the day. The follow-up mission, Chandrayaan-2, launched in July 2019, had a partially successful run. Its orbiter is still in orbit around the Moon, conducting studies, but the lander-rover failed to stick the landing and ended up crashing.

ISRO’s chief, Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, has assured that they’ve used the data from the previous failure to help shape Chandrayaan-3’s mission. Weighing in at 3,900kg and costing 6.1bn rupees ($75m; £58m), this mission carries a 1,500kg lander (named Vikram after the ISRO’s founder) and a 26kg rover named Pragyaan, which translates to “wisdom” in Sanskrit.

Following the spacecraft’s exit from Earth’s orbit, ISRO tweeted about the successful perigee-firing that placed the spacecraft in the translunar orbit, signalling that the Moon is its next destination. With the spacecraft now orbiting the Moon, scientists will start gradually reducing the rocket’s speed, setting it up for a soft landing for Vikram.

After landing, the six-wheeled rover Pragyaan will explore the Moon’s surface, collecting important data and images to be transmitted back to Earth. It is equipped with five instruments aimed at studying the surface, the nearby atmosphere, and the tectonic activity of the Moon. Mr Somanath expressed hope of finding something new through this exploration.

Given that the Moon’s south pole remains largely uncharted and could potentially harbor water in its permanently shadowed areas, this mission could uncover significant findings. With a resurgent global interest in the Moon, India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission is playing a key role in advancing our understanding of this celestial body, often considered as the gateway to deep space.

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