One month on: How is India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission doing?

14 Aug 2023

Image of the moon's surface taken by Chandrayaan-3. Image: ISRO

The Indian Space Research Organisation said the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft has reduced its orbit around the moon significantly after a ‘precise manoeuvre’.

It’s been exactly a month since India launched the Chandrayaan-3 lunar orbiter, which is now inching closer to the moon’s surface ahead of an impending soft landing.

In an update today (14 August), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said the Chandrayaan-3 mission has entered what is known as the orbit circularisation phase. The spacecraft is now in a 150 km x 177 km orbit around the moon.

Last week, ISRO said it performed manoeuvres to reduce the Chandrayaan-3’s orbit to 174 km x 1437 km just four days after the spacecraft successfully entered into the lunar orbit on 5 August.

A day after entering orbit, the ISRO released images and a video of the moon as viewed by the Chandrayaan-3 during its lunar orbit, which can be viewed here.

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.

However, India was presented with some competition last week after Russia reignited its lunar ambitions, with a new rocket launch aimed at the moon’s south pole – a region that may hold pockets of water in the form of ice.

This marks the first lunar mission Russia has launched since 1976. Both India’s and Russia’s lunar missions are reportedly expected to reach the moon on 23 August.

Russia’s space endeavours were hit last year when it invaded; the European Space Agency cut ties with Russia on some of its planned missions.

“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 during the mission launch.

Other countries are also looking at the moon’s south pole as an attractive site for their lunar ambitions. NASA is planning to send astronauts to the south pole of the moon by 2025 and to use the moon’s natural resources in preparation for missions to Mars.

The ISRO said that the next operation to reduce Chandrayaan-3’s orbit around the moon is scheduled for Wednesday (16 August).

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic