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Chandrayaan-3 Mission: India's Triumph on the Moon's South Pole

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

What Is India's Chandrayaan-3 Mission?

Chandrayaan-3 is a mission with its sights set on the lunar south pole, a region rich in water ice that holds the promise of supporting future lunar missions or even a permanent moon colony.


India's Chandrayaan-3 made history by executing a successful lunar landing at 6:04 p.m. today. It achieved a 'soft landing' at the Moon's south pole, a feat no other country has accomplished. Soon, a rover, a small vehicle designed for lunar exploration, will emerge from the Lander.

Chandrayaan-3 is slated to remain operational for two weeks, conducting various experiments, including a spectrometer analysis of the lunar surface's mineral composition.

The Chandrayaan-3 Lander stands at approximately 2 meters tall and weighs just over 1,700 kg (3,747.86 lb), making it roughly the size of an SUV. It is equipped to deploy a smaller 26-kg lunar rover.

Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, expressed eagerness about the insights that could be gained from the Indian mission.

When Was It Launched, and What Is the Expected Landing Date?

Chandrayaan-3 embarked on its journey on July 14 from India's primary spaceport in Andhra Pradesh, a launch riddled with complexities due to the challenging south pole terrain.

ISRO scientists made adjustments to enhance the mission's chances of success, including expanding the potential landing area and strengthening the lander's legs.

In contrast, Russia's first moon mission in 47 years ended in failure as its Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the moon. A private Japanese space startup, ispace (9348.T), also faced disappointment with an unsuccessful lunar landing attempt in April.

What Is a Soft Landing, and Why Did Chandrayaan-3 Choose the South Pole?

ISRO's mission had three key objectives: to demonstrate a safe and soft landing on the lunar surface, showcase lunar rover mobility, and conduct in-situ scientific experiments.

A 'soft landing' refers to a controlled, gentle landing that minimizes spacecraft damage. Chandrayaan-3 chose a landing site near the moon's south pole at 70 degrees latitude, unlike previous moon missions that landed near the equator.

The equator's terrain and temperature are more conducive for prolonged instrument operation, thanks to sunlight availability and milder conditions.

However, the lunar poles pose unique challenges.

They include regions in complete darkness without sunlight and frigid temperatures plummeting below -230 degrees Celsius.

These conditions hinder instrument operation, and the presence of large craters further complicates exploration.

Yet, these polar regions remain largely unexplored and could provide valuable insights into the early Solar System due to their extreme cold, which preserves geological features over time.

What Does Success Mean for Chandrayaan-3?

India is abuzz with excitement, with prayers in temples, mosques, and churches, schools arranging live telecasts, and space enthusiasts throwing parties in anticipation of the lunar landing.

A successful mission would make India the fourth country, after the USSR, the United States, and China, to successfully land on the moon. This achievement would solidify India's status as a space power, especially with national elections on the horizon.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government aims to stimulate investment in private space launches and satellite-related businesses.

India aims to increase its private space companies' global launch market share fivefold in the next decade.

ISRO's efforts, as PM Modi noted during the moon mission launch, are scripting a "new chapter in India's space odyssey," elevating the dreams and aspirations of every Indian. ISRO will broadcast the landing starting at 1720 IST (1150 GMT) on Wednesday.

When Indian space agency scientists set out to design the Chandrayaan-3 moon mission, they knew they had one more chance to make history with a landing on the lunar south pole after a failed attempt four years ago.

They also had to do it on a shoestring budget and ended up spending only Rs 6.15 billion or about $75 million on the mission.

From managing costs on rockets to developing a built-in-India supply base, the Indian Space Research Organization's (ISRO) success with the Chandrayaan-3 moon landing shows how it has honed a system of doing more for less, officials, suppliers, and analysts say.

What Was Needed for a Successful Chandrayaan-3 Landing?

The Chandrayaan-3 Lander's critical technical maneuver on August 23 involved transitioning from high-speed horizontal flight to a vertical position during the final 15 minutes of its soft landing attempt on the Moon.

This maneuver, described by K Sivan, former ISRO chairman, as "15 minutes of terror," consists of four phases:

  1. Rough Braking Phase: Reducing the lander's horizontal velocity from over 6,000 km/h at 30 km altitude to nearly zero for a soft landing.

  2. Attitude Hold Phase: At 7.42 km altitude, the lander tilts from horizontal to vertical during a 10-second hold while covering 3.48 km.

  3. Fine Braking Phase: Lasting about 175 seconds, the lander fully transitions to a vertical position, covering the final 28.52 km to the landing site. Altitude decreases to 800-1,000 m, and speed reaches 0 m/sec. Chandrayaan-2 encountered difficulties during this phase, resulting in a crash.

  4. Terminal Descent: The final stage involves the spacecraft's entirely vertical descent to the lunar surface.

What Happens After Chandrayaan-3's Successful Landing?

Spacecraft carry instruments and experiments (payloads) that observe and record space events.

This data is transmitted to Earth for analysis. Chandrayaan-3's Vikram lander and rover Pragyan retain six scientific payloads.

The lander houses four payloads to study lunar quakes, thermal properties of the lunar surface, changes in nearby surface plasma, and a passive experiment aiding precise Earth-Moon distance measurement. The fourth payload comes from NASA.

The Rover carries two payloads to analyze the lunar surface's chemical and mineral composition and determine the composition of elements such as magnesium, aluminum, and iron in lunar soil and rocks.

A successful mission would make India only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon, after the former USSR, the United States, and China, and mark its emergence as a space power, just ahead of national elections next year.

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Aug 24, 2023

For sure, this time around the CH3 mission will be 100% successful. 1.1B patriotic Indians prayers are with ISRO. All the best and GOOD LUCK ISRO. 🙏

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