One and a half months after it was launched, India's Chandrayaan-2 mission is finally scheduled to land on the moon at 1:55 am on Saturday, 7 September, with its lander 'Vikram' all set to script history by touching down in the lunar south pole region.
The lander (Vikram) and rover (Pragyaan) are expected to touch the lunar surface in the South Polar region of the moon.
This lunar mission aims to follow up with the previous one and get a more nuanced understanding of the moon.
Chandrayaan-2 intends to study the evidence of water molecules, the lunar surface and sub-surface in detail. It also seeks to gather insights on the origin of the moon.
India’s Deep Space Missions & Achievements
The area where water presence is speculated is chosen as the landing location. The landing of the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) from Chandrayaan-1 happened around this region. All the payloads in the mission are scientifically important, and will give insights regarding the presence, location and amount of resources on the moon. The payloads are Chandrayaan-2 Large Area Soft X-Ray Spectrometer, Chandrayaan-2 Atmospheric Compositional Explorer 2, Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, and the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy.
The lander and rover will remain active for two weeks, and the Orbiter will continue working for one year.
India has several achievements to flaunt in the outer space arena since the beginning of its space programme. In the 2000s, India started deep space missions such as Chandrayaan-1 (2008) and Mangalyaan, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (2013). Mangalyaan was the world’s first mission to successfully enter Mars orbit in its first attempt. Moreover, Chandrayaan-1 was the first time that water molecules were discovered on the Moon.
India has also detected lava tubes from its first lunar mission which can potentially form the basis for human habitation, due to its ability to provide safety from radiations, meteors, asteroids, and cosmic rays, and is more apt for humans in terms of gravity and atmospheric pressure requirements.
The Purpose & Strategic Importance Of Chandrayaan-2
Chandrayaan-2 is important for India to further assert its scientific competence. Though it was Chandrayaan-1 that found evidence of water on the moon, it was unable to publish the results due to anomalies in calibration. In reality, the water was discovered by instrument, a Moon Mineralogy Mapper, put up by NASA.
This mission should be an opportunity to discover more aspects of the moon which can answer the questions we have been asking for centuries.
Chandrayaan-2 will be looking for mineral compositions and elements on the moon, especially Helium-3 as it can be a big source of energy for the country in the long term.
Several other countries have plans to mine for Helium-3 on the moon. Hence, Chandrayaan-2 has a scientific as well as strategic importance for the country.
Recently, Israel attempted its first ever mission to the moon which failed due to an engine glitch just a few minutes before landing. The world has its eyes set on India’s mission with this being the 3rd lunar mission in this year alone. In January 2019, China, in a first, landed on the dark side of the moon.
The landing of Chang'e-4 was smooth, and the goals for their mission are similar to that of India. The most challenging part of Chandrayaan-2 is going to be landing, since the lander is attempting a soft lander which is a precarious job, but a critical achievement. Initially, Russian Space Agency Roscosmos was set to develop the lander for Chandrayaan -2, but it was unable to do so in time. It also took a pragmatic and responsible approach by withdrawing later, since it speculated some technical snags.
A Tilt In ISRO’s Focus
India has developed the lander indigenously, and needs to make sure it lands efficiently. This will be the fourth flight of GSLV MkIII, the same launcher which is planned for India’s human space flight – Gaganyaan. Any failure of the rocket can create a big setback for Gaganyaan, as the mission is expected to launch in 2022.
Gradually there has been a tilt in the focus of ISRO’s activities. From focusing merely on commercial satellite launches, it has started exploring deep space, and has announced its first human space flight, Gaganyaan, by 2022.
Eventually, India plans to build a space station in Earth’s lower orbit by 2030.
India has already carved a niche for itself with regard to space commerce, and now seeks to expand its scientific insights with more missions and experiments. For a country with such ambitious plans, and having invested a substantial amount of money in these missions, India must demonstrate its credibility at every stage.
Deep Space Missions: An Approach India Can Take
Apart from science and technology, India is also driven by prestige when it embarks on these missions. India needs to have a clear agenda and make a roadmap for its future activities. This will enable India to develop technologies and experiments which are crucial for nation-building, overall development, and will cater to India’s strategic needs. Previously, India has conducted deep space missions, but there is little to no clarity regarding the motive, and the future plan of these missions.
One approach that India can take with regard to its deep space missions is to first identify the question it wants to answer and plan a mission around it.
ISRO has also started taking small steps related to the publicity of its mission to the people, by uploading three detailed videos on YouTube on the mission. A planned outreach program, such as the live telecast of the launch, will help ISRO gain popularity, and increase the zeal and scientific temperament of the country.
The integration of all three modules of Chandrayaan-2 are completed, and will soon be integrated with the launch vehicle, GLSV Mk III.
(Kiran Dave is pursuing a Masters in Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University. Her research area is Outer Space, and India's Capabilities in Outer Space. Currently, she is interning at NIAS, Bengaluru, and writing her first paper on India's first human space flight, the Gaganyaan Mission. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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