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India to launch moon mission in March 2018

Chandrayaan-2 will send a rover and an orbiter to Luna

India's space agency ISRO has announced its intention to launch a mission to the moon in 2018.

News of the planned lunar mission came courtesy of a Tweet from northeast region development minister Jitendra Singh last week:

The Chandrayaan-2 mission will include ISRO's second lunar orbiter, a lander, and a lunar rover.

The agency explains it will be launched to Earth orbit by a GSLV Mark II rocket. The orbiter will then take the package to lunar orbit, 100 km above the surface, from which the lander will descend.

The country has ramped up its space efforts this decade: in 2013, it launched its Mars Orbiter Mission, which reached the Red Planet on a ridiculously tight US$74 million budget. MOM had a planned life of six months, but in July 2017 clocked up 1,000 days in orbit.

In June, the successful launch of the GSLV Mark III rocket put India in the select club of nations with a heavy-lift rocket.

The nation's space program works on a shoestring budget compared to rivals and also does things rather faster than established space agencies. That can result in somewhat bare bones missions - the Mars Orbiter Mission has a small instrument package - but the resulting data is still valuable to scientists.

ISRO also goes down very well in India, where it is seen as yet more evidence of the nation's re-emergence as a world power. ®

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