The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch Chandrayaan-2, its second spacecraft to the moon, on July 15 and 52 days later — September 5 or 6 — will attempt to make a first ever soft landing on the moon, the space agency’s chairman, K Sivan, announced on Wednesday.
The spacecraft will comprise three parts —an orbiter, a lander and the rover —and will carry 14 scientific payloads, including instruments which will help “understand the moon’s composition and seismic activities better”, Sivan said.
The rover can roam the lunar surface for 14 earth days, Sivan said, adding that the targeted region of the moon had never been explored before.
“While the technical difficulties of landing on the moon’s south polar region have deterred many previous attempts, Chandrayaan-2 will be the first to reach this part of the lunar surface taking the Indian Tricolor where no human has been before,” Sivan said.
“The final test of vibration and acoustics is done and on June 14, the spacecraft will move to Sriharikota for preparation of the final stages of the mission,” Sivan said.
The mission is being led by ISRO scientists Dr Vanita and Dr Ritu. It will take 15 minutes for the lander to manoeuvre itself into a position for landing on the moon. “This will be the most anxious period for ISRO’s scientists, since we never attempted doing this before,” Sivan said.
The space agency now has a 10 minute window from 2:51 am every day between July 8 and July 16 to launch. It will reduce to one minute after July 17 and last till the end of the month, Sivan said. The launch period and window are key to a spacecraft reaching its desired destination.
The lander, labelled Vikram, will attempt a landing using new “throttleable technology” developed by the agency to cut its velocity — in its orbit —30 km from the moon and decelerate for a soft touchdown.
The mission, which costs Rs 978 crore, will be ISRO’s third deep space science mission following Chandrayaan 1 in 2008 and the Mangalyaan Mars mission of 2014.
The 52-day journey across the 384,000 km distance is economised for fuel conservation through orbit changes by the sporadic firing of liquid fuel, he explained.
The Chandrayaan-1 mission was the first time that an Indian spacecraft broke away from the earth’s gravitational field to reach the moon.
Multiple delays have plagued the Chandrayaan-2 project, which has been in the offing since 2013. The mission was initially expected to be completed late last year or early this year before the general elections but technical problems with the lander stalled the mission. In 2013, the lander that was to be used was to be of Russian make however, the collaboration failed to take off.
Chandrayaan-1 had 11 scientific payloads, including a Moon Minerology Mapper and a Mini SAR from NASA, that provided the initial data for scientific publication of the presence of water on the moon.
Though the mission was to orbit the moon for two years, contact with the spacecraft was lost 10 months after launch reportedly because of a miscalculation of the lunar heat radiation. The radiation began taking its toll when the spacecraft moved into a 100 km orbit from the moon barely a month after the launch and began overheating. The agency had to resort to measures like re-orienting the spacecraft to control temperatures.