Ten years ago, on October 22, 2008, India through the Indian Space Research Organisation launched the satellite Chandrayaan into outer space. The spacecraft entered the moon’s orbit after a 17-day journey and later planted the Indian Tricolour on the lunar surface. The mission was one that filled our hearts with pride because it was the first significant mission that the ISRO had taken up in years and it had proved to be a huge success.
Following the launch, the satellite stayed close to the Moon’s orbit for about a year and conducted various tests and sent back several findings. The most significant outcome being the presence of water on the lunar surface. This proved to be a fundamental discovery, and thereby it caused an uproar in the scientific community with several nations applauding India for its efforts. After a year’s worth of information and correspondence, the mission was adjudged completed when the spacecraft went out of contact on August 29, 2009.
Following the success of the Chandrayaan mission, ISRO registered a series of successful launches and in the process created a respectful track record. ISRO has flown the PSLV; the rocket used to launch the Chandrayaan mission, 32 more times, taking up the total rocket launch count to 42. It is inspiring to note that out of this 42 lunches, only two of them, the first and the 39th, failed.
The second lunar mission, Chandrayaan 2, is expected to occur sometime in early January of next year and dares to dream bigger than its predecessor as the ISRO is planning a landing and sample sending mission with this spacecraft. The Organisation has also released a statement in which it has declared that it is planning a Mangalyaan-2 and is also working on turning PM Narendra Modi’s dream of having an Indian in space by 2022, a reality. Ten years after India’s historic lunar mission, things sure seem to be looking up for us when it comes to space exploration. The success of the Chandrayaan mission gave us an opportunity to spread our wings and really dream bigger, while it also allowed the ISRO to develop a halo around itself with respect to other international space research organisations.
The ambitious Chandrayaan 2 project consists of an orbiter, lander and a small rover. If the mission is completed successfully, it will be India’s first soft landing on another planet and will also become the second landing of such a nature since the end of the Apollo era, which is regarded by many as the Golden Age of space exploration. Indian Space Research Organisation Satellite Centre (ISAC) director, M Annadurail, says, “If this mission is a success, it will be a stepping stone for future exploration missions to other planets.”
The orbiter can carry up to 8 different instruments into a 100-kilometre, circular orbit and plans to do so the same way the Chandrayaan 1 did it, ten years back. The lifetime for the mission has been sketched to be around a year, and as the launcher uses a soft lander, the lander and rover payloads have been minimised and optimised. The lander and rover have been described as having nominal lifetimes of 1 lunar day, or to be more precise, 14 Earth days.
The launch is to take place from Sriharikota, as usual, and will be done through a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark 2 rocket, making the Chandrayaan 2, India’s first deep-space launch on a heavier launch vehicle. After the spacecraft has breached the orbit of the Moon, the lander mission can commence. The landing has been planned to happen autonomously as the lander separates from the orbiter and is said to perform a deboost manoeuvre to slow itself down. This deceleration will set the course for landing a=to one with an 18-kilometre periapsis. Once the lander has safely touched down on the lunar surface, it will deploy its payload.
The payload or much rather the spacecraft carries the following scientific instruments:
1. Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity, to study moonquake and other such surface phenomena. A massive quake could help the device get a better idea about the Moon’s interior, a mystery that has baffled humanity since the Apollo days and hence would be a significant discovery if achieved.
2. Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment has been built to measure the thermal properties of the lunar surface and note patterns associated with temperature rises and drops.
3. Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive ionosphere and Atmosphere has been built to measure the surface plasma density of the surface and also mark its distribution as it changes throughout the day. Lunar Plasma is responsible for the levitation of lunar dust, which has caused problems to various space crafts and hence unravelling the mysteries behind the lunar dust can help to make things simpler for future space crafts.
If the Chandrayaan 2 succeeds, India’s next mission is that of sample returning as India is taking China’s plan into consideration of going from an orbiter to a rover, to a sample return mission. However, India is seeking international help instead of going for it alone to ensure success. India and Japan are in talks to collaborate on the sample returning mission and want to prevent another space race by helping each other instead.
The Chandrayaan 2’s landing near the South Pole, coupled with China’s arrival on the far side, will give astronomers a better understanding of the Moon’s topography and may help to shed some light onto its dark side, which has stayed hidden from us for millennia. Regardless of who gets there first, we can be very proud of the way we are surging ahead when it comes to space exploration and technology.
By Athulya Mohandas