The Indian Lunar Exploration Programme, or Chandrayaan, is derived from the Sanskrit word candrayāna translating to 'Moon-craft,’ a ceaseless sequence of external space missions by ISRO, or the Indian Space Research Organisation.
With Chandrayaan-3 set to launch in July 2023, here's a brief history of the previous Chandrayaan missions and ISRO's vision.
Two decades ago, Prime Minister Atul Bihari Vajpayee announced the Chandrayaan project on India's 56th Independence Day, August 15, 2003. This project is set to have four phases.
Five years later, to study extraterrestrial exploration, ISRO launched Chandrayaan-1 on October 22, 2008, under Phase I, termed "Orbiter and Impactor," which became India's first Moon mission.
It boarded the 'workhorse,’ the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV-C11. 11 scientific payloads were made in Bulgaria, Germany, Sweden, India, and the United States. One of them carried NASA's Moon Impact Probe and "an imaging spectrometer helped confirm the discovery of water locked in minerals on the Moon,” called Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3).
It has mapped the Moon using infrared, visible, and X-ray light originating from lunar orbit to scout for a range of minerals, elements, or ice. Additionally, an impactor was purposefully launched toward the moon, and the science equipment on the orbiting spacecraft analyzed the released debris. Chandrayaan-1 served two years in mission life, and the mission was concluded when the spacecraft lost communications on August 29, 2009, after orbiting more than 3400 times around the moon.
Under Phase II of "Soft Landers and Rovers,” on July 22, 2019, Chandrayaan-2 was launched. It boarded the LVM3-M1, or Launch Vehicle Mark-III rocket, consisting of the lunar orbiter, the Vikram lander, and the Pragyan rover. This project aimed to augment the scientific knowledge of the moon through detailed studies of the topography, seismology, mineral identification and distribution, surface chemical composition, thermophysical properties of the topsoil, and composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere, leading to a new understanding of the origin, evolution, and exploration of the South Pole of the Moon. On August 20, 2019, orbital positioning schemes began for the landing of the Vikram lander. However, on September 6, 2019, while endeavoring to land, the lander crashed from its calculated trajectory due to a software glitch, rendering it unable to communicate with the ground stations, according to the failure analysis report submitted. The India Times stated, the cost of Chandrayaan-2 was lesser than the Hollywood movie Interstellar.
The eleven-year gap between Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2 was a remarkable leap for ISRO with the progressing technological improvements that facilitated better studies as compared to the previous missions. Moreover, India wanted to achieve the soft-landing. USA and Russia have achieved their success by landing close to the moon's near side which is the equator as it was considered safe and effortless. China became the first to land on the far side of the moon. Hence, India aimed to land close to the South Pole of the moon as it was an unexplored zone.
In the "On-site sampling" of Phase III, ISRO is scheduled to launch Chandrayaan-3 on either July 12 or 13, 2023. ISRO Chairman S Somnath informed the Press on June 28, 2023, that the testing of the Chandrayaan-3 was completed.
The ₹615 crore project is boarding the LVM3, which has an indigenous Lander module (LM), a propulsion module (PM) called Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE), and a Rover underneath the titles of the former mission. Pitching from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota around 2:30 pm, this mission follows the mission of Chandrayaan-2. According to sources from The Indian Express, senior-most officials have stated the landing on the moon will occur close to August 23.
One of its most vital goals is to accomplish the triumphant landing of the lander on the moon and deploy the rover to carry out crucial investigations. According to The Mint, ISRO's objectives are "to demonstrate Safe and Soft Landing on the lunar surface, to demonstrate Rover roving on the moon, and to conduct in-situ scientific experiments."
From a technical perspective, this mission is set to carry Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE), Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA), and Langmuir Probe (LP) under the Lander Payloads to understand thermal conductivity and seismicity near the dock location and gauge the plasma viscosity, respectively. Moreover, it also houses NASA's Laser Retroreflector Array. Under the Rover Payloads, it carries an Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) for emanating the elemental composition in the surroundings of the docking zone.
Regarding the future of ISRO's space missions, the Chandrayaan project continues. Under the same Phase III, Chandrayaan-4 and Chandrayaan-5 are proposed to be ventured by 2025 and between 2025 and 2030, respectively. Phase IV: Sample-return missions will seek Chandrayaan-6 in the time frame of 2030–35.
The future of India's space missions seeks a skyrocketing lot as everyone waits for Chandrayaan-3's mission.
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