ISRO to continue lunar mission until an Indian lands on Moon: Somanath

Ahmedabad: The Indian Space Research Organisation will continue its Chandrayaan series of lunar probes until an astronaut from the country lands on the Moon, said ISRO Chairman S Somanath on Wednesday.

Last August, the premier space agency’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft made a soft landing on the south pole of the lunar surface, making India the first country to achieve the feat.

“Chandrayaan 3 has done very well. Data has been collected and scientific publication has just started. Now, we want to continue the Chandrayaan series till an Indian lands on the Moon. Before that, we have to master many technologies, such as going there and coming back. That we are trying to do in the next mission,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an event.

“Looking ahead, Isro aims to take the next step in space exploration with the Gaganyaan programme, planning to launch a crew of 2 to 3 Indian astronauts into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for up to three days before safely returning them to a predefined site in Indian waters,” he wrote in an article for Manorama Yearbook 2024, which was released last week.

Currently, the astronaut designates are undergoing mission-specific training at the Astronaut Training Facility (ATF) in Bengaluru.
The inaugural manned space mission Gaganyaan involves developing critical technologies, including a human-rated (capable of safely transporting humans) launch vehicle (HLVM3), an Orbital Module comprising a Crew Module (CM) and Service Module (SM), and life support systems.
Two identical un-crewed missions (G1 and G2) besides Integrated Air Drop Test, Pad Abort Test, and Test Vehicle flights will precede the Gaganyan mission.
The crew module is a habitable space with an Earth-like environment in space for the crew and is designed for safe re-entry.
The first development flight of Test Vehicle (TV-D1) was launched on October 21, 2023, and it successfully demonstrated in-flight abort of the Crew Escape System, followed by Crew Module separation and its safe recovery from the Bay of Bengal by the Indian Navy.
“The success of this test flight was crucial for subsequent unmanned missions and the ultimate human space mission, expected to be launched in 2025,” Somanath said.
Somanath added that Aditya L1, which is India’s maiden solar exploratory mission, is another key mission for the agency. It will study the sun from the vantage point of Lagrange Point 1.
Laden with seven scientific payloads all developed indigenously in collaboration with various Isro centres and academic institutes, the Aditya L1 spacecraft will seek to discover mysteries of the sun, including measuring solar corona, solar wind, solar flares and interplanetary magnetic fields.
Somanath said that launched on September 2, 2023, Aditya L1 is poised for a five-year mission. The spacecraft is on its intended path towards Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 1 (L1), approximately 1.5 million km from Earth, where it will be inserted into a Halo orbit in January 2024.
On the success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission, Isro chief said that it was a historic achievement, leading to the declaration of August 23 as “National Space Day in India” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the mission life of 14 earth days, it yielded valuable lunar data, discovering aluminium, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, sulphur, manganese, silicon, and oxygen in lunar soil.
Somanath also said that some of the ongoing projects are: Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) programme, the X-ray astronomy mission XPOSAT (X-ray Polarimeter Satellite), Space Docking Experiment, and the LOX-Methane engine.
“Together, these transformative initiatives define a new space saga in India’s pursuit of space exploration, fostering scientific progress and an ever-expanding cosmic horizon,” he said.
Somanath added that SSLV, a three-stage launch vehicle, can launch a 500 kg satellite into 500 km planar orbit, and can accommodate multiple satellites. It has launch-on-demand feasibility, minimal launch infrastructure requirements and low cost.
Planned to launch in 2023-2024, XPOSAT is India’s first dedicated science mission, which will investigate bright astronomical X-ray sources in extreme conditions by using scientific payloads.
Space Docking Experiment (SPADEX), planned for launch in the third quarter of 2024, is a twin spacecraft mission dedicated to advancing docking and formation flying technologies with a scope of applications in human spaceflight. The mission involves two mini-satellites – one designated as a Chaser and the other as a target, launched together as co-passengers.
“The success of the docking experiment holds significant importance in paving the way for lunar sample return missions under future Chandrayaan missions,” he pointed out.
Somanath said that PM Modi has set ambitious goals such as commissioning “Bharatiya Antariksha Station” or Indian Space Station by 2035, and embarking on interplanetary exploration, featuring a Venus Orbiter Mission and a Mars Lander, further to solidify India’s presence on the global space stage.
“India’s space programme is poised to reach new heights in the coming years…With every mission launched and every discovery made, ISRO reaffirms its position on the global stage as a force to be reckoned with, instilling national pride and expanding India’s technological feat,” he added.