Chandrayaan-3: What to expect from India’s mission to Moon’s south pole

India will make its second attempt to achieve the soft landing of a spacecraft near the Moon’s south pole with the Chandrayaan-3 mission scheduled for launch on Friday.

The mission is a successor of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) failed attempt in 2019 to land a rover on the lunar surface, in which a last-minute glitch sent the spacecraft crash-landing into the Moon’s surface.

The main aim of Chandrayaan-3 is to put a lander and rover in the highlands near the Moon’s south pole and demonstrate the country’s end-to-end landing and roving capabilities.

A successful mission would make India only the fourth country after the US, Russia, and China to have landed a rover on the Moon, and it would be the closest landing yet of any space vehicle to the lunar south pole.

With the orbiter launched as part of ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, launched in October 2008, India could make discoveries of water (H2O) and hydroxyl (OH) on the lunar surface with data suggesting their abundance towards the Moon’s polar region.

Chandrayaan-2 was launched in 2019 with the same goal of exploring the Moon’s south pole, but contact was lost with the mission’s rover and lander moments before its scheduled landing. It was later confirmed that the vehicle had crashed into the surface and been rendered unusable.

Friday’s mission is scheduled for launch at 9.05am UT (2.35pm local time) and is expected to land on the Moon near the end of August.

The Indian space agency noted that both the rover and the lander will be similar to those used in the Chandrayaan-2 mission, but with some improvements from the 2019 design to help ensure a safe landing.

ISRO will also make a number of scientific measurements on the surface and from orbit as part of the latest mission.

The rover, weighing about 26kg, will be carried to lunar orbit by a propulsion module that will then remain in orbit around the Moon and act as a communications relay satellite.

The lander, named Vikram after Indian space programme pioneer Vikram Sarabhai, will carry an instrument called Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) to measure the Moon’s surface thermal properties and an instrument for measuring lunar seismic activity (ILSA).

It also has an instrument called the Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive ionosphere and Atmosphere (RAMBHA) to study the gas and plasma environment, and a laser device provided by Nasa for lunar ranging studies.

If the mission finds elements like hydrogen and oxygen it could have a significant impact on the future of deep space exploration.

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