India's space agency set to launch lunar lander, rover

On a shoestring budget, Chandrayaan-3 aims to observe Luna, Earth, even exoplanets

India's Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will next week launch Chandrayaan-3, a mission that aims to land on the moon and deploy a rover.

ISRO yesterday announced that Chandrayaan-3 had been tucked into its capsule and mated with the (LVM-3) launcher that will take it into space. Liftoff from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre has been scheduled for July 14 at 2:35pm IST (09:05 Friday UTC).

The ridiculously economical $74.5 million mission aims to land near Luna's south pole in August. From a ramped compartment, the lander will deploy a 26 kilogram rover outfitted with instruments including an Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS).

The lander contains an accelerometer, Ka-band and laser altimeters, Doppler velocimeter, star sensors, inclinometer, touchdown sensor, and cameras for hazard avoidance and positional knowledge.

The lander also boasts several instruments including Chandra's Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) to measure surface thermal properties, Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) to measure tremors around the landing site, Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive ionosphere and Atmosphere (RAMBHA) to study the gas and plasma environment, and a NASA-provided passive Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) for lunar ranging studies.

Chandrayaan-3 atop a LVM-3 booster

Chandrayaan-3 atop a LVM-3 booster, on its way to the launchpad - Click to enlarge

A propulsion module that carries the rover and lander will stay in a 100km lunar orbit, where it will act as a communication relay satellite, complete with a payload – known as the Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) – that studies spectral and polarimetric measurements of Earth from roughly 362,000 to 405,000 kilometers away.

ISRO has set three fairly straightforward objectives for the mission: land safely and softly on the Moon; demonstrate the rover moving about on the lunar surface; and conduct experiments for a period of 14 Earth days.

India tried a similar mission, Chandrayaan-2, in 2019. A software glitch caused the lander to crash during its landing attempt. But Chandrayaan-2's orbiter continues to circle the moon. Chandrayaan-3 therefore didn't need to carry its own.

The new mission also includes stronger legs and more cameras that can help coordinate descent approach. The new version adds the SHAPE instrument aboard the propulsion module, which not only studies Earth, but can look for habitable exoplanets elsewhere.

Only three countries - the USA, Russia, and China, have successfully landed missions on the Moon. Good luck, Chandrayaan-3! ®

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