Chandrayaan-2 weighing 3.8 tonnes is extremely cost-effective, with a total estimated cost of ₹978 crore
Isro successfully launches India’s most ambitious mission Chandrayaan-2; spacecraft will attempt to land a rover near the Moon’s south pole on 7 Sep
NEW DELHI :
Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has bounced back with flying colours," said its chairman K. Sivan and broke into a nervous smile, as Chandrayaan-2 was injected into the elliptical Earth orbit 16.4 minutes after its launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. With this, Chandrayaan-2 began its historic 48-day journey to the south pole of the Moon, where it will begin its quest for water.
What makes the mission important?
WOMEN POWER: India’s most challenging mission till date, Chandrayaan-2 marks the first time an Indian space mission is being led by women scientists. Muthayya Vanitha, who has been working with the space agency for more than three decades, has helmed the mission from the start as a project director. An electronic systems engineer, Vanitha was also associated with Isro’s Mars mission. After Monday’s successful launch, the mission will be carried forward by mission director Ritu Karidhal, who will navigate the module towards the Moon. Karidhal was deputy director of India’s historic Mars mission.
A QUESTION OF TIME: After India missed the 9-16 July launch window, it was left with the slimmest of slots, where even a minute’s delay could have impacted the mission. “Isro had only one minute’s time during which it had to execute the launch. If the take-off had got delayed by even a minute, due to any reason, it would have lost the current launch window and would not have been able to put the satellite into the intended orbital plane in space," said assistant professor Nirupam Roy of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. But, Isro took a calculated risk, rather than having to endure a postponement by at least a month.
SOFT LANDING NEAR THE SOUTH POLE: If all goes as planned, India will become only the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to make a soft landing on the Moon. The lander, Vikram, will separate from the obiter on 7 September and make a touchdown on the lunar surface. “Those 15 minutes of terror" is how Isro chairman K. Sivan refers to the coming soft landing—a first for the agency. Landing near the south pole is historically significant as this part of the Moon, which faces away from the Earth, remains unexplored. It will give Isro the opportunity to name that site on the Moon.
QUEST FOR WATER: After being the first to gather evidence of water on the surface of the Moon, with its maiden Moon mission in October 2008, Indian scientists plan to take those experiments further by mapping the extent and distribution of water on the Moon. According to Isro scientists, a sample of “primeval water" could pave the way for major findings on the origin of water on the Moon. With wider explorations of the solar system in the years ahead, especially from manned missions, the Moon could form the base for fuel, oxygen and other critical raw materials. The mission module is carrying as many as 13 payloads, three of which are on the lander and two on the rover. The orbiter carries a dual frequency synthetic aperture radar that can search for water below the lunar surface.
IT’S CHEAP: Unlike other moon missions, the Chandrayaan-2 weighing 3.8 tonnes is extremely cost-effective, with a total estimated cost of ₹978 crore— ₹603 crore for the space segment and ₹375 crore for the launch. The space segment includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover (Pragyan). Chandrayaan-1, with an orbiter and an impactor, cost only ₹386 crore. By comparison, Chandrayaan-2 is cheaper than the $165 million ( ₹1,105 crore) it cost to make the 2014 Hollywood sci-fi film Interstellar.
HIGH-TECH LEAP: This is the first time that a spacecraft that has been indigenously developed by Isro would set foot on lunar soil. Both the lander and the rover have been designed and fabricated by Indian scientists with contribution by various research institutes.
The mission will also serve as a test for the powerful three-stage Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III M1, which will be used for India’s first human space mission, the Gaganyaan, set for launch by 2022.
WHAT NEXT? In the coming days, a series of 15 crucial orbital manoeuvres will be carried out using Chandrayaan-2’s on-board propulsion system. This will raise the spacecraft orbit in steps. After roughly 23 days, it will be placed in the lunar transfer trajectory to enable the spacecraft to travel to the vicinity of the Moon. “We have been waiting for it for long—not only us, but the entire globe," said Sivan. “The task is not over yet. The D-Day (7 September) is yet to come."
In pic: Indigenous ingenuity has been the hallmark of India’s space programme. Isro’s experimental geostationary satellite, APPLE (Ariane Passenger PayLoad Experiment), was tested on a bullock cart hired for ₹150—saving the time and funds needed for a special facility—as wood is an electrically insulating material. APPLE was successfully launched on 19 June 1981.