India takes second punt at soft lunar landing with launch of Chandrayaan-3 mission

We'll see in 42 days whether economical $74.5M rover sticks

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, successfully launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Friday at 1435 local time.

ISRO's LVM3 launch vehicle is carrying a lander and rover to 100km lunar orbit. At the time of writing, the craft had been placed in precise orbit and the health of the spacecraft was reported as normal.

The spacecraft will take 42 days to journey to the Moon, after which it is scheduled to land near the lunar south pole where it will conduct experiments for 14 Earth days.

Should it succeed, India will become the fourth country after the USSR, USA and China to successfully soft land a mission on the Moon. The most impressive part is that the mission operates on a shoestring budget of $74.5 million. Chandraayan-1 reached the lunar surface in 2008, but it was an impact probe – it was designed to smash into the Moon to study the debris kicked up by the crash.

India has tried to soft land on the Moon before with Chandrayaan-2 in 2019, but a software glitch caused the lander to crash. The current iteration of the mission incorporates lessons learned from the failed mission, such as stronger legs, more cameras to coordinate descent approach, and other features.

The latest iteration also includes a Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) instrument, which is aboard a propulsion module that is responsible for getting the lander and rover to where they need to be to set down on the Moon.

This propulsion module will remain in orbit, and will not only study Earth but can look for habitable exoplanets elsewhere. It'll also handle communications with the Indian Deep Space Network. The Chandrayaan-2's orbiter, which remains in space from the earlier mission, will act as a "contingency link" for the mission.

An ISRO official said that India would be increasing the amount of launches of its LVM3 vehicle to meet satellite demands.

Chandrayaan-3 is the seventh mission carried by LVM3 and the third launch over the past year. According to ISRO, the launch vehicle has a 100 percent success rate. ®

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