The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) on Wednesday unveiled plans for its second unmanned mission to the moon, in what would be another milestone in the country’s space exploration programme.
The lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-2 is scheduled for lift off at 0251 hours on 15 July from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
The announcement by Isro comes almost 11 years after former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the first lunar mission on 18 September 2008.
Chandrayaan-2 will have three modules, Orbiter, Lander (Vikram), and Rover (Pragyan). These are designed to carry out various experiments, including mapping of the surface, minerals, chemical composition, detection sparse water molecules above the lunar surface and rock formations.
“This is not only Isro’s mission but the entire country’s," Isro chairman K. Sivan said at a news conference.
The spacecraft, with an estimated weight of 3.8 tonnes, will attempt a soft landing on the moon, adding to the complexity of the mission. If successful, India will join the US, the former Soviet Union, and China—the only three other nations to have achieved the feat so far.
Chandrayaan-2 is expected to take a total of 58 days post launch in various stages of orbit for the modules to reach the moon and an additional four days to land near the south polar region.
Isro will use the same strategy as Chandrayaan-1 for this mission but the soft landing will be a new attempt. “It will take 15 minutes to land and is going to be the most terrifying moment because this is a flight Isro has never undertaken," Sivan said.
The lunar landing is expected to take place on 6 or 7 September on the unexplored south polar region of the moon—a first for any country—which has the possibility of the presence of water in permanently shadowed areas as well as craters that are cold traps that contain the fossil record of the early solar system.
Chandrayaan-1, which was launched on 22 October 2008, orbited the moon more than 3,400 times and played a crucial part in the discovery of water molecules on the lunar surface, until the spacecraft completed its life cycle and communication with it was lost on 29 August 2009.
Chandrayaan-2 will carry a total of 13 payloads, including eight on the Orbiter, three on the Lander, two on the Rover, as well as one passive experiment from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the US.
The Orbiter will continue its task while the Rover comes out of the Lander after it has landed on the Lunar surface. “It’s a very slow operation. Subsequently, the Rover will move on to the moon. It will move at a speed of 1cm per second and will cover 500 metres," Sivan said.
The entire lifecycle of the Lander and Rover will be one lunar day, which is equivalent to 14 earth days while the Orbiter will continue for one year.
The Orbiter and Lander will be able to communicate with Earth directly, while the Rover will share information, images and data to the Lander which in turn will share it with Isro.
Sivan said the mission was supported by more than 500 academic institutions and 120 industries that contributed 60% of the ₹603 crore cost of Chandrayaan-2 and 80% of the ₹375 crore cost of the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle-Mark III.