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Monday, December 4, 2023

India’s Lunar Triumph: Chandrayaan-3 Soars towards Moon’s South Pole

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India’s latest achievement in space exploration has taken a significant step forward as its recent lunar mission successfully entered the Moon’s orbit. The country’s ambitious space program, operating on a comparatively modest budget, is making remarkable strides and challenging the milestones previously set by established space powers.

The Chandrayaan-3 mission achieved a crucial milestone with the successful completion of the Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI). The insertion was carried out by retro-burning at the Perilune for 1835 seconds, starting at 19:12 Hrs IST. The maneuver resulted in an orbit of 164 km x 18074 km, as intended.

This is the third time in succession that ISRO has successfully inserted its spacecraft into the lunar orbit, apart from doing so into the Martian orbit.

As the mission progresses, a series of maneuvers have been planned to gradually reduce Chandrayaan-3’s orbit and position it over the lunar poles. After some maneuvers, the propulsion module will separate from the lander while in orbit. Following that, a series of complex braking maneuvers will be executed to facilitate a soft landing in the South Polar region of the Moon on August 23, 2023.

The health of Chandrayaan-3 is normal. Throughout the mission, the health of the spacecraft is being continuously monitored from the Mission Operations Complex (MOX) at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking, and Command Network (ISTRAC), the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) antenna at Byalalu, near Bengaluru, with the support from ESA and JPL Deep space antenna.

Among the nations that have achieved controlled lunar landings—Russia, the United States, and China—India is positioning itself to join this elite group. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) recently confirmed the successful insertion of Chandrayaan-3, which translates to “Mooncraft” in Sanskrit, into the lunar orbit. This achievement comes after more than three weeks since the mission’s launch.

The forthcoming stages of this mission are crucial, with plans for a safe landing near the little-explored south pole of the Moon between August 23 and 24. This endeavor follows India’s previous attempt, which unfortunately ended in failure four years ago when communication with the lander was lost just moments before touchdown

Chandrayaan-3, a project spearheaded by ISRO, comprises a lander module named Vikram (meaning “valour” in Sanskrit) and a rover named Pragyan (derived from the Sanskrit word for wisdom). Impressively, this mission carries a price tag of $74.6 million, significantly more budget-friendly compared to other nations’ efforts, highlighting India’s proficiency in frugal space engineering.

One of the factors contributing to India’s cost-efficiency is its ability to replicate and adapt existing space technologies, coupled with a workforce of highly skilled engineers who receive compensation far lower than their international counterparts. This approach has allowed India to make substantial advancements without breaking the bank.

The journey of the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft to the Moon has taken longer than the rapid Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s, which reached their lunar destination in a matter of days. India’s spacecraft utilized a less powerful rocket than the United States’ Saturn V, completing multiple elliptical orbits around Earth to gain the necessary speed before embarking on a month-long trajectory to the Moon.

Assuming a successful landing, the rover on board will disembark from Vikram and embark on an exploration of the nearby lunar terrain, capturing images to be transmitted back to Earth for analysis. The rover’s operational lifespan is estimated at one lunar day, equivalent to 14 Earth days.

ISRO’s chief, S. Somanath, noted the meticulous analysis of data from the previous unsuccessful mission, indicating the organization’s dedication to rectifying past glitches.

India’s space program has undergone substantial growth since its first lunar orbit mission in 2008. It achieved a major milestone in 2014 by becoming the first Asian country to establish a satellite in Mars’ orbit. In subsequent years, ISRO demonstrated its prowess by launching an impressive 104 satellites in a single mission.

Looking ahead, India’s Gaganyaan (“Skycraft”) program is slated to further elevate its space exploration by launching a manned mission into Earth’s orbit within the next year. Furthermore, India aims to expand its share of the global commercial space market by offering cost-effective solutions for private payloads, solidifying its position as a formidable player in the realm of space exploration.

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