India’s Chandrayaan-3 Moon Mission Launches Successfully

Chandrayaan-3, a partial redo of a 2019 mission that ended in a crash, is the first of as many as six missions that could land on the moon in the coming months.

India is on its way back to the moon after a rocket lifted off from Sriharikota, a launch site off the country’s East Coast, on Friday afternoon local time.

The mission, Chandrayaan-3, is largely a do-over after the country’s first attempt at putting a robotic spacecraft on the surface of the moon nearly four years ago ended in a crash and a crater.

Chandrayaan-3 is taking place amid renewed interest in exploring the moon. The United States and China are both aiming to send astronauts there in the coming years, and a half dozen robotic missions from Russia, Japan and the United States could head there this year and next.

India’s Chandrayaan-3 Moon Mission Launches Successfully
In late August, the Launch Vehicle Mark III will attempt to land on the moon with its robotic lander and rover intact.R. Satish Babu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

If the robotic lander and rover aboard Chandrayaan-3 succeed in landing intact, that will be an accomplishment that no country other than China has pulled off this century, adding to the national pride India takes in its homegrown space program. A cadre of commercial space start-ups is also popping up in India.

Last month, India reached an agreement with the United States to send a joint mission to the International Space Station next year. The Indian Space Research Organization — India’s equivalent of NASA — is also developing its own spacecraft to take astronauts to orbit.

On Friday, at 2:35 p.m. local time (5:05 a.m. Eastern time), a rocket called Launch Vehicle Mark III lifted off from the Indian space base on an island north of the metropolis of Chennai.

As crowds waving Indian flags and colorful umbrellas cheered, the rocket rose into the sky. Sixteen minutes later, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage, and a round of cheering and clapping erupted in the mission control center.

“It is indeed a moment of glory for India,” Jitendra Singh, the minister of state for India’s Ministry of Science of Technology, said in remarks after the launch, “and a moment of destiny for all of us over here at Sriharikota who are part of the history in the making.”

Over the coming weeks, the spacecraft will perform a series of engine firings to elongate its orbit before heading toward the moon. A landing attempt is scheduled to occur on Aug. 23 or 24, timed to coincide with sunrise at the landing site in the moon’s south polar region.

Landing on the moon in one piece is difficult, and many space programs have failed.

Chandrayaan means “moon craft” in Hindi. Chandrayaan-1, an orbiter, launched in 2008, and the mission lasted less than year. The Chandrayaan-2 mission lifted off successfully on July 22, 2019, and the spacecraft successfully entered orbit around the moon.

The Chandrayaan-3 lander’s design is largely the same as its predecessor’s, though changes include stronger landing legs, more propellant, additional solar cells and improved sensors.Indian Space Research Organization
The lander en route to be fitted onto the Launch Vehicle Mark III that will carry it to space.Indian Space Research Organization

The landing attempt on Sept. 6, 2019, appeared to be going well until the lander was about 1.3 miles above the surface, when its trajectory diverged from the planned path.

The problems arose because one of the lander’s five engines had thrust that was slightly higher than expected, S. Somanath, the chairman of the Indian space agency, said during a news conference a few days ago.

The spacecraft tried to correct, but the software specified limits on how quickly it could turn. And because of the higher thrust, the craft was still some distance from its destination even as it was approaching the ground.

“The craft is trying to reach there by increasing velocity to reach there, whereas it was not having enough time to,” Mr. Somanath said.

Months later, an amateur internet sleuth used imagery from a NASA spacecraft to locate the crash site, where the debris of the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover sit to this day.

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter continues to travel around the moon, where its instruments are being used for scientific study. For that reason, the Chandrayaan-3 mission has a simpler propulsion module that will push a lander and a rover out of Earth’s orbit and then allow it to enter orbit around the moon.

Although the design of the lander is largely the same, changes include stronger landing legs, more propellant, additional solar cells to gather energy from the sun and improved sensors to measure the altitude.

The software was also changed so that the spacecraft could turn faster if needed, and the allowed landing area has been expanded.

If they get to the moon, the lander and the rover will use a range of instruments to make thermal, seismic and mineralogical measurements of the area.

People gathered at the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network command center in Bengaluru, waiting for news after communications with the Vikram lander were lost in 2019.Jagadeesh Nv/EPA, via Shutterstock
The ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network facility in Bengaluru.Manjunath Kiran/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The mission is to conclude two weeks after the landing when the sun sets on the solar-powered lander and rover. If something comes up while Chandrayaan-3 is in orbit around the moon, the landing could be delayed a month until the next sunrise, in September, so that the spacecraft can spend a full two weeks operating on the surface.

While scientists will benefit from the lunar data collected by Chandrayaan-3, India, like other countries, is also exploring the solar system for reasons of national pride.

When the country’s Mangalyaan spacecraft entered orbit around Mars in 2014, children across India were asked to arrive at school by 6:45 a.m., well before the usual starting time, to watch the event on state television.

Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, was at the mission control center in Bengaluru and hailed the Mars mission “as a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation.”

For the failed Chandrayaan-2 landing attempt, Mr. Modi was again at the space center, but his address afterward was more subdued. “We came very close, but we will need to cover more ground in the times to come,” he said to the scientists, engineers and staff.

Later in his address, Mr. Modi added: “As important as the final result is the journey and the effort. I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey.” He was later seen embracing and consoling K. Sivan, then the chief of ISRO.

On Friday, the mood in the mission control room was jubilant after the spacecraft’s successful trip to orbit was confirmed. Optimism about Chandrayaan-3 also pervaded some Indian space enthusiasts who traveled to view the launch in person.

Neeraj Ladia, 35, the chief executive of Space Arcade, an astronomy equipment maker, was parked among around 100 cars viewing the launch five miles from the ISRO campus at Sriharikota.

“This time it will be a soft landing, definitely,” he said, referring to setting down on the moon in one piece. He added, “That is why the mood is very positive this time.”

Beyond Chandrayaan-3, the Indian space agency has other plans in motion. It is developing a spacecraft, Gaganyaan, for taking astronauts to orbit, but it has fallen behind its original goal of a crewed flight by 2022, and the mission is now expected no earlier than 2025.

India is increasing its collaboration with the United States for space missions. Earlier this year, the White House announced that NASA would provide training for Indian astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston “with a goal of mounting a joint effort to the International Space Station in 2024.”

The Indian Space Research Organization manufactured components to the Chandrayaan-3 mission at a Godrej Aerospace facility in Mumbai.Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press

India has also signed the Artemis Accords, an American framework that sets out general guidelines for civil space exploration. The accords reinforce the United States’ view that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty allows countries to use resources like minerals and ice mined on asteroids, the moon, Mars and elsewhere in the solar system.

Another collaboration is the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar mission, or NISAR, which will use advanced radar to precisely track changes in the Earth’s land and ice surfaces. The satellite is scheduled to launch from India in 2024. India also has ambitions for missions to study the sun and Venus.

Several moon missions could be right at India’s heels. Russia is planning to launch Luna 25 in August, the latest in a long line of robotic missions to the moon. But it has been a long time since the last one: Luna 24 took place in August 1976, before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Also scheduled to head to the moon in August is the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, from the Japanese space agency JAXA.

Three NASA-financed missions are also on the way as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program — missions put together by private companies to take NASA instruments to the moon. Intuitive Machines of Houston has scheduled its first C.L.P.S. mission for no earlier than the third quarter of this year, heading for the south polar region.

Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh has its lander ready but is waiting on its ride — a new rocket developed by United Launch Alliance called Vulcan, which is not yet ready to fly.

A second Intuitive Machines mission is also penciled in for the fourth quarter of this year, but that seems likely to slide into next year.

There has been one landing attempt on the moon this year, in April, by the Japanese company Ispace. But that spacecraft crashed when its navigation system became confused.

– 출처 : https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/14/science/india-moon-launch-chandrayaan-3.html

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