Optimism high on Chandrayaan-3 success

As never before the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists appear to be more than confident of a   successful launch of the Chandrayaan-3, a mission to study the moon’s surface. The confidence is borne out of the lessons learnt from the failure of  Chandrayaan-2, which crash landed due to a software glitch in 2019. Yet, it did contribute significantly to studying and understanding the moon’s surface, though scientists would not measure it in percentages. The ISRO Chairman S Somanath looks confident of scripting the history of Indian space missions on August 24 when the Chandrayaan-3, which was lifted off today from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, land on the lunar surface. Even though India has satellites orbiting the moon, certain data can be collected only from the surface of the cosmic body.

The journey to moon has begun with Chandrayaan-1 in 2008. Its success could mostly attribute to the findings of water molecules on the moon’s surface,  while the confirmation from the NASA’s mission came a good 12 years later – in 2020. But the much-publicized Chandrayaan-2 mission, however, failed with a crash landing. The failure was witnessed by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi who consoled the then ISRO chairman K Sivan. Even before it could be forgotten, the ISRO scientists came up with Chandrayaan-3, with many course corrections, to ensure a soft landing. And Chandrayaan-3 is essentially meant to try and do what its predecessor failed to do in 2019. The most significant among them are those introduced in Vikram, the lander. Vikram will have stronger legs than its previous avatar to enable withstanding landing at greater velocities than earlier.

The vehicle will carry a lander attached to a propulsion module. The latter will carry the former to a circular orbit around the moon, after which the lander will descend to the surface. The lander module will carry a rover that it will deploy on the moon and a few other pieces of scientific equipment. Just like its predecessor, Chandrayaan-3 consists of a lander and rover configuration, which will be carried to a 100-km lunar orbit by a propulsion module. The primary objective of the mission is to demonstrate a soft landing on the moon for Vikram lander.

Unlike the Chandrayaan-2, there is no orbiter element for Chandrayaan-3 for its successful landing. A ‘soft landing’ takes place when a spacecraft lands intact on the lunar surface. The lander, Vikram, which gets separated from its orbiting mothership, had performed two manoeuvres to lower its altitude for a perfect touchdown. The Luna 9 spacecraft, launched by the former Soviet Union, performed the first successful soft landing on February 3, 1966. Ideally, the lander would settle onto the moon at only a few miles per hour. But this ‘soft landing’ was beyond the reach of existing technology. The best ranger could do was to fire a blast from a solid-fuel braking rocket to slow its descent before its lander simply fell to the surface — a ‘hard landing’.

Chandrayaan-1, India’s first mission to moon, was launched on October 22, 2008, from SDSC. The spacecraft was orbiting around the moon at a height of 100-km from the lunar surface for chemical, mineralogical, and photo-geologic mapping of the moon.

Being dubbed as a failure, the Chandrayaan-2 indeed operated for 312 days and achieved 95 per cent of its planned objectives. Its discovery of the widespread presence of water molecules in lunar soil, indeed stunned nations like Russia, the US, and China, which successfully conducted similar missions.

In a bid to continue the Chandrayaan mission series objectives, they are short-listed to: (a) demonstrate a safe and soft landing on lunar surface; (b) demonstrate rover roving on the moon; and (c) conduct in-situ scientific experiments. Interestingly, the budget of Chandrayaan-3 is also said to be Rs 615 crore less than the much-publicized film Adi Purush’s production cost of Rs 700 crore! Shouldn’t India celebrate its scientists’ greatest achievement for making the moon mission possible at such a cost-effective manner, which may prove tough for its competitors to emulate?

Well, India is set to join the elite club, once the lander and rover get separated after a soft landing on August 24. No tensions on the faces of Somnath’s scientific team this time around. Optimism with greater confidence could be found with whomever one speaks to, of the past and present space scientists, as they boldly say the success of the mission is like writing on the wall. So hold your breath and prepare to celebrate the unique achievement of our space scientists.