Bangalore: The Indian Space Research Organisation, or Isro, plans to launch its lunar mission in October, marking the start of a two-year quest to learn more about the evolution of the moon and map its surface for minerals such as helium-3, or He-3.
Isro will launch Chandrayaan-1, the unmanned spacecraft, between 19 and 26 October, officials at the space agency said on Thursday.
The spacecraft, which weighs 590kg, will be fitted with 11 scientific instruments, including five from the US, Sweden, Japan, Germany and Bulgaria. These instruments and cameras would look for water on the moon, besides mapping the chemical, soil and mineral characteristics of its surface.
The Indian mission will also be the first to map the entire surface of the moon, including the polar regions where frozen water could be found, said T.K. Alex, director of Isro’s satellite centre in Bangalore, at a press conference.
Scientists estimate the moon has large reserves of He-3, a mineral used to produce nuclear energy that has the potential to solve the world’s energy problems. The potential for harnessing the mineral and use it as an energy resource has prompted nations such as Russia, the US, China and Japan to undertake lunar missions.
“The mission is aimed at larger objectives and He-3 could be said to be one of them,” said Ajey Lele, a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a New Delhi based think tank, in an email response to queries from Mint. “It is also to test our own capabilities. Deep space has not been on our agenda but with this mission we are entering into that field.”
India joins Japan and China in an Asian race to explore the moon and its resources. Japan in September 2007 launched its Selene spacecraft to the moon, followed the next month by China’s Chang’e-1. China has said its mission is aimed at exploring the moon for He-3.
Space quest: Chandrayaan-1 at Isro satellite centre in Bangalore. It will be launched between 19 and 26 Oct. Hemant Mishra / Mint
“Finding He-3 is one of the objectives of this mission,” said M. Annadurai, project director for the moon mission at Isro. “India does not want to lag behind”
An improved version of India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV, rocket will launch the spacecraft that will take around five days to reach its desired orbit of 100km above the moon. The project cost Rs386 crore, including the budget for the launch and setting up a deep space network, a 32 metre antenna, to receive data from the spacecraft.
Chandrayaan-1 will be fitted with an instrument provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or Nasa, of the US to map the lunar surface. “The scientific knowledge gained by M3 will prove to be a valuable resource for Nasa’s future exploration of the moon,” Mary White, a member of the moon mineralogy mapper, or M3, team at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said by email.
When Isro proposed its moon mission in 1999, mapping He-3 was not an objective, but soon it was included as a priority.
“There will be more thrust on He-3 in the second mission” said Annadurai. “But getting it to Earth and generating power (here) is at least 10-15 years away.”
India’s cabinet approved on Thursday funding of Rs425 crore for the Chandrayaan-2 mission, to take place in 2011-12.