India recently achieved a historic milestone with the successful Chandrayaan-3 mission, conducted by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). This mission marked India’s first soft landing on the lunar South Pole, establishing the country as a member of an elite group alongside the U.S.A., former Soviet Union, and China in lunar exploration.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission featured a remarkably lightweight rover, weighing just 26 kilograms, designed to endure the harsh lunar environment and adverse weather conditions for up to two weeks. To ensure continuous operation, the rover was equipped with solar panels on all sides, allowing it to harness solar energy efficiently, even in areas devoid of sunlight due to extreme temperatures.
This achievement followed the Chandrayaan-2 mission, which experienced a setback in September 2019 when the Vikram lander failed to make a successful soft landing. ISRO Chairman Mr. S Somnath identified three critical errors that led to the crash, including excessive thrust from the engines, software limitations, and a small landing site. Despite the setback, Chandrayaan-2 managed to conduct valuable research from lunar orbit and search for signs of water ice.
Chandrayaan-3’s journey began with the successful launch of the Lander Module (LM) on July 14, carried by the reliable Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM3) rocket. The propulsion module attached to the spacecraft propelled it to a lunar orbit, gradually lowering Chandrayaan-3 to a circular radius of 100 km above the moon. The lander successfully detached and soft-landed on the lunar surface.
ISRO scientists meticulously addressed the previous mission’s shortcomings by upgrading the lander’s software, implementing more safety features, providing a larger landing site, and increasing the fuel capacity. These enhancements aimed to ensure a more successful mission and mitigate unforeseen challenges.
Chandrayaan-3’s primary research objectives include the detection of hydrogen, a crucial indicator of water presence, and the potential for lunar life. The Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) instrument has already confirmed the presence of sulfur and detected various other elements, including aluminum, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, manganese, silicon, and oxygen. The ChaSTE (Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment) payload measures lunar topsoil temperature to enhance our understanding of the moon’s surface behavior.
Additionally, Chandrayaan-3 carries six payloads on the Vikram lander, enabling research into lunar quakes, plasma variations on the surface, and precise distance measurements between Earth and the Moon.
The successful Chandrayaan-3 mission garnered worldwide attention, with ISRO’s live stream of the final touchdown becoming the most-watched live event globally, attracting over eight million concurrent viewers. Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, who virtually joined the scientists, praised the mission’s significance, emphasizing its contribution to humanity’s shared knowledge.
A few days later, Prime Minister Modi visited the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru to congratulate the team of scientists personally. He announced that the lunar landing site would be named ‘Shiv Shakti Point’ to honor the hard work and inspiration of women scientists. Additionally, he dedicated a name, ‘Tiranga Point,’ to the location where Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander had previously crashlanded.
Furthermore, August 23 was declared National Space Day to commemorate the moon landing, a day dedicated to celebrating science and technology to inspire future generations.
ISRO’s future missions are ambitious and include collaborations with international space agencies. In January 2024, a joint launch with NASA will deploy the NISAR observatory to map ice masses and more on Earth. Mangalyaan 2 is set to explore Mars using hyperspectral, panchromatic cameras, and radar for geological studies. Aditya-L1, starting in September 2023, will observe the solar corona using a solar coronagraph, marking India’s first observatory-class mission. Additionally, the Gaganyaan 1 and 2 missions will lay the groundwork for the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme, with a crewed mission planned for 2025.
India’s achievements in space exploration continue to inspire and pave the way for groundbreaking scientific discoveries, cementing ISRO’s position as a leader in space research and technology.