Chandrayaan-2 launch: Over the Moon
It is the best sound and light show that you can witness. At precisely 2.43 pm on a balmy Monday afternoon, India's space port at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh was lit up by billowing clouds of luminescent orange smoke.
Then as if it was a fire breathing dragon, the 15-storey tall Chandrayaan-2 rose to the sky with a kilometre long dazzling tail of fire. It rapidly gathered momentum and within a second was travelling five times as fast as any passenger aircraft. Then as it disappeared into the overcast sky, the deep roar of the rocket engines hit you in the pit of the stomach even harder than the bass of the hardest rock a band can play.
At the open air amphitheatre of the visitors not far from the launch pad, a loud cheer broke out among the over 5,000 of them who had come from far and wide to witness the launch.
Cries of "Jai Hind" and "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" rent the air and the entire audience was up on its feet applauding the feat of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists. In the launch control centre, not far from the gallery, top space scientists including the Isro chairman Dr K Sivan sat glued to their computer consoles monitoring the flight path of the spacecraft.
A moving blip on a pre-determined flight path indicated that it was performing better than expected. At the end of 973 seconds, when its third stage rocket injected the payload of Chandrayaan-2 into a trajectory towards the Moon, the scientists clapped, shook hands and even hugged each other like the Indian cricket team when it celebrates.
The first part of India's second mission to the Moon performed even better than a textbook launch. Importantly, the heavylifting GSLV Mark 3, India's most powerful launcher which was undergoing it first operational flight, proved to be a success.
Just last week, when the first attempt was made to launch the spacecraft, it had to be aborted because of a plumbing leak in its uppermost stage cryogenic engine. Scientists worked non-stop 50 hours at the launch pad itself to identify and fix the leak.
Isro then announced it was ready for a launch, but there was understandable tension in the control room till the engine where the repairs had taken place performed to perfection. Scientists knew that there were many more moments that would give them anxiety as the spacecraft headed to its long journey of over three lakh kilometres to reach the moon.
As Isro chief Sivan said: "It is the beginning of a historic journey to explore the unexplored."
For the next 28 days, space scientists would perform a series of intricate manoeuvres to nudge the spacecraft to a precise rendezvous with the Moon. Then once it attains its lunar orbit, the specially developed lander carrying the rover will detach from the orbiter module and touch down on the Moon in the first week of September. Sivan calls these moments of pure "terror."
Both the lander and rover are absolutely new technologies that ISRO will have to prove. Chandrayaan-1 had only an orbiter and a lunar impactor. Chandrayaan-2, in addition to having a more sophisticated orbiter, also has a lander and the rover that will carry out a range of experiments. ISRO will have to anxiously monitor the launch for the next two months before declaring it a success.
Chandrayaan 2 is on a mission unlike any before. Leveraging nearly a decade of scientific research and engineering development, India's second lunar expedition will shed light on a completely unexplored section of the Moon - its South Polar region.
WHAT WILL IT DO
This mission will help us gain a better understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon by conducting detailed topographical studies, comprehensive mineralogical analyses, and a host of other experiments on the lunar surface. While there, we will also explore discoveries made by Chandrayaan 1, such as the presence of water molecules on the Moon and new rock types with unique chemical composition.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW
It will be injected into an earth parking 170 x 39120 km orbit. A series of maneuvers will be carried out to raise its orbit and put Chandrayaan-2 on Lunar Transfer
Trajectory. On entering Moon's sphere of influence, on-board thrusters will slow down the spacecraft for Lunar Capture. The Orbit of Chandrayaan-2 around the moon will be circularised to 100x100 km orbit through a series of orbital maneuvers.
On the day of landing, the lander will separate from the Orbiter and then perform a series of complex maneuvers comprising rough braking and fine braking. Imaging of the landing site region prior to landing will be done for finding safe and hazardfree zones. The lander-Vikram will finally land near South Pole of the moon on Sep 7, 2019. Subsequently, Rover will roll out and carry out experiments on Lunar surface for a period of 1 Lunar day which is equal to 14 Earth days. Orbiter will continue its mission for a duration of one year.
September 18, 2008: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approves the Chandrayaan - 2 lunar mission.
July 15, 2019: Chandrayaan - 2 launch scheduled.
July 15, 2019 at 2:51 hours: Mission was called off due to a technical snag noticed at around one hour before launch.