Fly me to the moon: India reignites Chandrayaan lunar mission

14 Jul 2023

Chandrayaan-3. Image: ISRO

Chandrayaan-3, the third moon-landing spacecraft developed by India, has blasted off towards the moon today to study unexplored parts of its surface.

Third time’s the charm, they say, and now 1.4bn Indians are hoping the age-old proverb holds true as the historic Chandrayaan-3 mission blasts off from India and heads towards the moon.

Named after the Sanskrit word for “moon craft”, Chandrayaan-3 is India’s third attempt at a mission to the surface of the moon. The lander and rover – made entirely in India – hopes to perform what is known as a soft-landing on the dark and relatively unexplored south pole of the moon.

If the spacecraft lands on the moon successfully, with the Pragyan rover intact, India will become the second country in this century to achieve the feat after China.

A live broadcast of the launch was aired by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the government body responsible for building and managing the Chandrayaan-3 mission. The Launch Vehicle Mark III rocket launched off India’s eastern coast at around 10am today (14 July).

“It is indeed a moment of glory for India,” said Dr Jitendra Singh, minister of state for India’s Ministry of Science of Technology, in the aftermath of the launch, “and a moment of destiny for all of us over here at Sriharikota [the launch site] who are part of the history in the making.”

The previous Chandrayaan-2 mission was launched almost exactly four years ago to explore water deposits that were confirmed by a previous mission, the Chandrayaan-1, which made headlines and orbited the moon before malfunctioning a year later.

Unfortunately, the Chandrayaan-2 was not as successful as its predecessor as it deviated from its intended trajectory and crashed on the lunar surface in September 2019. According to ISRO, the crash was caused by a software glitch.

Remains of the lander were discovered by an amateur Indian astronomer in December 2019. NASA then released images that showed debris scattered across a large area and one piece located almost 1km away from where the craft touched down.

Now, India has reignited the Chandrayaan mission, and its space exploration hopes with it, to map and study the rugged lunar surface, its composition, and its water content.

Thousands waved the Indian tricolour as the Chandrayaan-3 made its way into space from Sriharikota in the televised event, and the launch was considered a success after the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage 16 minutes into the journey.

The lander and rover aboard the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft. Image: TAVD/URSC

“Chandrayaan-3 scripts a new chapter in India’s space odyssey. It soars high, elevating the dreams and ambitions of every Indian,” tweeted Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, while on a state visit to Paris. “This momentous achievement is a testament to our scientists’ relentless dedication. I salute their spirit and ingenuity!”

Over the next few weeks, Chandrayaan-3 will attempt to elongate its orbit before heading towards the moon. It is expected to land on the moon’s south polar region between 23-24 August 2023, coinciding with sunrise.

India’s latest mission is one of many the country has planned in its space exploration pipeline. It comes amid an ongoing global race to send crewed and uncrewed missions to the moon, including the US, China, Japan and Russia.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic