(This was originally posted in The Hindustan Times)
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to launch its third mission to the Moon next year, the government said on Wednesday. In a written response to a question in the Lok Sabha, minister of state for the department of space, Jitendra Singh, said that the Chandrayaan 3 mission will carry only a lander and a rover.
The space agency earlier planned to launch the Chandrayaan 3 mission either in late 2020 or early 2021. However, most missions were rescheduled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The integrated spacecraft is being realised for planned launch during 2022,” Singh said, adding that the spacecraft is in “advanced stages” of realisation, with the propulsion system already built and undergoing tests. The lander structure has also been built and is currently being fitted with its propulsion system, he said.
India’s second mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-2, lost contact with Earth just 2.1km away from the surface of the Moon in 2019. While the lander, Vikram, made a hard landing on the lunar surface, the orbiter is expected to remain in position for seven years.
“There was a problem at the very last leg of the journey of the lander. For the third mission, we have to ensure — one, there is no problems with the thrusters; two, the system is fault tolerant so that even if there is some issue, for example thrusters not working, the system can automatically course correct; three, we have to ensure that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter communicates with the lander throughout the powered decent because it is capable of giving last-minute commands if necessary,” said Dr M Annadurai, former director of the Isro satellite centre in Bangaluru.
The Vikram lander and Pragyan rover aboard the Chandrayaan-2 were to land near the lunar south pole, where the mission was expected to observe water molecules frozen in the darker regions of the Moon.
This year, Isro has planned two missions in December – the first unmanned flight under the Gaganyaan mission, and India’s first solar mission.
The unmanned flight will bring India’s human spaceflight programme one step closer to sending humans to low earth orbit; the final mission will be undertaken after a successful second unmanned flight scheduled for next year.
The solar mission, Aditya L1, will see the space agency send a satellite 1.5 million kilometres away to the Lagrangian point, between the Earth and the Sun, which is where the gravitational pull of both the bodies on the satellite is equal to the centripetal force needed to keep the satellite in orbit. These points are like parking spots in space from where a satellite can make observations without expending much fuel. This point between the Earth and the Sun allows an uninterrupted view of the Sun.
The mission will carry six scientific payloads that will study the visible surface of the sun (photosphere), the irregular layer over it called the chromosphere and the layer of plasma called corona that extends for thousands of kilometres and has a temperature of around 6,000 Kelvin (5726.85 degrees Celsius), according to Isro.