Chandrayaan, the Indian lunar exploration program | News

chandrayaan indian lunar exploration program

The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission is postponed

– News of July 16, 2019 –

The Chandrayaan-2 mission was scheduled to take off on July 15th. However, it was postponed. 56 minutes before the scheduled launch time, the attempt was canceled due to a technical problem on the GSLV Mach III launcher. The next launch windows will open on July 16th, 29th and 30th. ISRO has not yet announced the date of the next Chandrayaan-2 launch attempt.

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The Indian Chandrayaan-2 mission will take off towards the Moon on July 15, 2019

– News of July 11, 2019 –

On July 15, 2019, the Chandrayaan-2 mission will take off aboard a GSLV Mk III launcher towards the Moon just over ten years after the first mission of the same name. This time, the Indian Space Agency (ISRO) hopes to reach the lunar surface and even roll around with a small rover. The moon landing will take place on September 6th. If the mission is a success, India will become the fourth world power to land on the lunar soil, after the United States, the USSR and China. As we saw at the beginning of the year with Beresheet, landing on the Moon is complicated. But ISRO is accustomed to achieving feats with a very limited budget. It is the only space agency in the world to have achieved a Martian mission the first attempt.

Chandrayaan-2 will continue the discoveries of Chandrayaan-1

The idea of ​​an Indian mission to the Moon was born in the late 1990s and was approved by the Indian Prime Minister in 2003, the same year as the Chinese Chang’e program. The first lunar orbiters of the two countries then took off in 2007 and 2008. These very similar agendas are reminiscent of a mini Moon race between the two rising powers. On the Indian side, Chandrayaan-1 was the first space exploration mission. It was a small orbiter of a ton. ISRO had made the choice to collaborate strongly with other countries. More than half of the scientific instruments shipped by Chandrayaan-1 were provided by NASA and ESA.

After three weeks of travel and 9 uses of its small engine, Chandrayaan-1 seamlessly entered lunar orbit on November 8, 2008. The Indian space agency hoped to be able to use the space probe for two years, but it was worked just over 10 months. It is however a sufficient period to realize 90% of its scientific mission and to revolutionize our knowledge of the Moon.


Shortly after its arrival, Chandrayaan-1 dropped a small impactor at the south pole of the Moon. It was equipped with three scientific instruments including a mass spectrometer that measured significant amounts of water during its descent, so much water that the mission leaders wondered if the spectrometers had been properly decontaminated. But the American M3 instrument installed on the orbiter quickly confirmed a similar detection. Designed to map the mineralogy of the Moon, it also indicated the presence of water ice in increasing concentrations.

As it approached the south pole of the Moon, ISRO was checking its results with NASA and in September 2009 the two space agencies announced the discovery of water at the lunar south pole. Ten years later, this discovery still conditions almost all the exploration efforts towards the Moon. Everyone wants to go to the South Pole : the Chinese, the Americans, the Europeans and of course the Indians. This is also the time it took the Indian space agency to prepare for its second lunar mission. The priorities of ISRO are not the same as the Chinese space agency CNSA. The CNSA has focused all its efforts on the Moon while the Indian Space Agency has used this period to launch its first Martian mission successfully.

Chandrayaan-2 will locate and quantify lunar water ice

Thanks to Chandrayaan-2, India wants to move up a gear. The mission that will take off on July 15, 2019 is much more ambitious than Chandrayaan-1. Once again, the spacecraft will adopt a small step travel strategy. Injected into a very elliptical Earth orbit, it will gradually increase its apogee until it can rush towards the Moon after being captured by lunar gravity. It will perform reverse maneuvers to reduce and circularize its new orbit. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter would then have to evolve only 120 km from the lunar surface for a period of one year.

Chandrayaan-2 carries five scientific instruments : a camera, two spectrometers, a spectroscope and a radar. The radar should make possible to probe the lunar surface to a depth of a few tens of meters. It must therefore be used to confirm the presence of water ice deposits in craters that are perpetually in the shade. Chandrayaan-1 has indicated the presence of water ice, Chandrayaan-2 should allow us to discover where it is located exactly and in what quantities.

moon surface

Vikram and Pragyan, the stars of the Chandrayaan-2 mission

The real stars of the mission, however, will be the lander called Vikram and the rover called Pragyan. Shortly after arrival in lunar orbit, they will detach from the orbiter to move to an even lower orbit of 30 per 100 km. After verifying the proper functioning of all their systems, they will start a descent controlled independently.

As we saw with Beresheet, landing on the Moon is not easy. For India, it will be a first. The maneuver is therefore particularly risky. The lander will use a radar, an inertial center and a navigation camera to analyze the lunar surface and avoid obstacles. It will stabilize at 4 meters above the lunar surface before cutting its engines. The end of the travel will therefore be in free fall with an estimated contact speed of less than five meters per second. The lander and the rover will land on the Moon at the beginning of a lunar day. They are indeed equipped with solar panels and should not survive their first lunar night. It is therefore a mission of a fortnight that awaits them on the surface of the Moon.

The lander Vikram has a mass of 1.4 tons while the rover Pragyan has a mass of 27 kg. The lander embeds five scientific instruments. A bit like InSight on the planet Mars, it embeds a seismometer and a thermal probe, which may help to probe the crust of the lunar south pole. A Langmuir probe, a radio experiment and a laser reflector complete the on-board equipment of the Vikram lander. Pragyan is inspired by Sojourner, NASA’s first Mars rover. In addition to its two navigation cameras, it embeds two spectroscopes that will allow it to analyze the composition of the lunar surface. Compared to other planetary exploration rovers, Pragyan will be a real little racing car. It will travel nearly 500 meters on the lunar surface in 14 days. In comparison, Yutu 2 the rover of the Chinese mission Chang’e 4 has traveled 213 meters in 6 months.

The landing site chosen for Chandrayaan-2 is ideal for exploring the distant past of the Moon

The Chandrayaan-2 lander and rover will attempt to land between the Manizinus C and Simpelius N craters, an area about 70 degrees south latitude. It’s not exactly the south pole of the Moon. Peaks of eternal light and craters perpetually darkened can be found from 80 degrees south latitude. So Pragyan will not roll in a deposit of water ice. But the region chosen for the Moon landing is still very interesting. It contains ghost craters, which formed when the Moon was still geologically active. In some cases, during this period the impact craters could then be filled with lava, leaving only to guess their borders.

We also estimate that the chosen landing site is geologically very old, at least 3.8 billion years old. There is therefore a good chance that the surrounding surface will contain material ejected from the crust before the massive bombardment period that transformed the appearance of the Moon. Chang’e 4 had this chance in the South Pole-Aitken, let’s hope that Pragyan will have time to make the same discovery before sinking into the lunar night.

Chandrayaan-2 is only the beginning of the lunar ambitions of India

The main mission of the lander and the rover is a technological demonstration. The most interesting scientific results will probably come from the orbiter, which will produce 3D maps of the Moon and a radar dive in the heart of craters that have not seen the sun for more than two billion years.

If successful, India has great ambitions for its lunar exploration program. India is developing a manned flight program that will allow it to have its own spaceship in 2022. The Indian space agency is also preparing another Martian mission and a first Venus mission. The Indian private sector is also very active, particularly through the projects of TeamHindus, an organization that until recently developed its own lunar lander, but is now doing so under the CLPS program. ISRO will be a candidate to follow to send men back to the Moon.

The Asian powers will have a major presence on the Moon

For the future of the Chandrayaan program, a collaboration with JAXA, the Japanese space agency, was mentioned. A hypothetical Chandrayaan-3 mission would seek to land even closer to the poles. This time, the lander and rover would be designed to survive the lunar nights and conduct on-site sample analysis. Such a mission was mentioned for 2024. But JAXA could commit significant funds to the European Heracles mission, which may limit the scope for further collaboration.

Like the rest of the world, the Asian continent in any case staring at the Moon. Chinese, Japanese and Indian will soon be joined by South Koreans. South Korea is preparing its first lunar mission for next year. Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter will take off on a Falcon 9 to map the Moon and its precious resources. A second mission will look a lot like Chandrayaan-2, with a lander and a rover. In a few years, the number of nations to have landed on the Moon could have doubled.

The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission is once again delayed

– News from April 30, 2019 –

In India, the failure of Israel’s Beresheet mission caused ISRO to think hard about India’s lunar exploration program. The Chandrayaan-2 mission due to be launched in April was once again delayed. We must now wait for the month of July. It will be ISRO’s first attempt to send a lander and a rover on the moon.

So far, India has been incredibly efficient in its space program. ISRO has managed to send orbiters around the Moon and Mars without failures and with a very low budget.


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