India's Chandrayaan-3 Moon mission hibernates to see out a long lunar night

Spacecraft scheduled to snooze until September 22 when it's hoped machines return to duty

India's Chandrayaan-3 Moon mission has ended its first phase of operations, with the Pragyan rover and Vikram lander entering sleep mode to see out a long, long lunar night.

Launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on July 14, Chandrayaan-3 released its Vikram lander on August 17. The probe spent over a week slowly descending to touchdown on the Moon's southernmost tip, marking India as the first country ever to land near the Moon's south pole, and the fourth country to successfully land on the satellite at all after the US, Russia, and China.

After landing, Vikram unfolded a ramp that Pragyan used to roll onto lunar regolith.

Both machines have completed their primary scientific goals and have now been powered down to wait out the cold, dark, long lunar night.

Pragyan's instruments have been turned off, but its receivers will stay on to transmit data to Vikram. The lander has also paused data collection duties, but will keep its receivers on to send data back to Earth.

"Vikram will fall asleep next to Pragyan once the solar power is depleted and the battery is drained. Hoping for their awakening, around September 22, 2023," the ISRO said. Pragyan, however, went to sleep with full batteries.

Both spacecraft are expected to continue studying the lunar south pole once they collect sufficient energy. "Hoping for a successful awakening for another set of assignments! Else, it will forever stay there as India's lunar ambassador," the ISRO added.

Over ten days spent exploring the Moon, the lander has measured the temperature of the lunar topsoil, probed charged particles in plasma, and has possibly detected the rumbles of a moonquake or impact event. Meanwhile, its rover has detected sulfur as well as aluminum, silicon, calcium, and iron in the lunar regolith.

Chandrayaan-3 is ISRO's second attempt to land on the lunar surface. In 2019, it sent Chandrayaan-2 to try and reach the near side of the Moon, but the lander crashed onto the surface during its descent.

Space agencies around the world are particularly interested in the Moon's south pole. Days after the Vikram lander separated from its Chandrayaan-3 mothership, Russia's Roscosmos lost contact with its Luna-25 lander after it failed to perform a maneuver that would have moved it into an orbit to prepare for landing. It ended up crashing on the lunar surface.

NASA plans to send a crew of astronauts to the area as early as 2025 – although that date looks optimistic. They will be tasked with Moonwalks, and taking pictures and videos of the lunar surface, collecting samples and studying its geology. Data collected by spacecraft in previous missions have shown that the lunar south pole contains water – a vital resource that would help astronauts survive on the Moon.

Scientists are currently working on technologies that can extract water from icy deposits for drinking or making fuel for future missions. ®

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