India’s third moon mission, Chandrayaan 3, was successfully launched on July 14, 2023, from the Satish Dhawan Center in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, at 2:35 p.m. The primary objective of Chandrayaan 3 is to achieve a soft landing on the south pole of the moon. This region, which remains unexplored by any previous mission, holds great scientific interest. If the ‘Vikram’ lander of Chandrayaan 3 successfully lands on the lunar south pole, India will become the first country in the world to achieve this feat. Currently, only the United States, Russia, and China have successfully landed landers on the moon.
In September 2019, ISRO attempted to land the Chandrayaan-2 mission on the moon’s south pole; however, it encountered a hard landing. Taking valuable lessons from that experience, significant changes have been implemented in Chandrayaan 3. The mission is expected to take approximately one and a half months to reach the moon, with an estimated landing date of August 23 or 24, 2023.
The significance of the lunar south pole extends beyond India, capturing the attention of the global community, including countries like the United States and China. China had previously landed a lander near the south pole, while the United States is preparing to send astronauts to this region next year. The exploration of the moon’s south pole holds immense potential for scientific discovery, and Chandrayaan 3 aims to contribute to our understanding of this uncharted territory.
Why the South Pole?
The South Pole holds great significance both on Earth and the Moon. On Earth, the South Pole is located in Antarctica, known as the coldest place on our planet. Similarly, the South Pole of the Moon is also an extremely frigid region. When an astronaut stands on the Moon’s South Pole, they can observe the Sun on the horizon, visible and shining from the lunar surface.
Most of the South Pole area on the Moon remains in shadow, as the Sun’s rays fall obliquely. This perpetual shade contributes to the low temperatures experienced there. It is believed that the South Pole of the Moon may contain water and minerals due to its consistent shade and cold environment. This hypothesis has been supported by previous lunar missions, such as Chandrayaan-2 and the upcoming Chandrayaan 3.
What is the environment like at the South Pole?
NASA has reported that data from orbiters suggests the presence of ice and other natural resources at the South Pole of the Moon. However, further exploration and research are required to gather comprehensive information about this region. In 1998, a NASA Moon mission detected hydrogen at the South Pole, which is considered evidence of ice.
According to NASA, the South Pole of the Moon is characterized by towering mountains and numerous craters. Sunlight is scarce in this area. In regions where sunlight reaches, temperatures can rise as high as 54 degrees Celsius. However, in areas devoid of sunlight, temperatures plummet to minus 248 degrees Celsius. NASA asserts that many craters have remained in perpetual darkness for billions of years, never touched by the Sun’s rays.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the entire South Pole is not continuously engulfed in darkness. Several areas, such as those near Shackleton Crater, receive sunlight for approximately 200 days each year.
Even if water or ice is found, what will happen to it?
The South Pole of the Moon is a highly enigmatic region that remains largely unexplored. According to a NASA scientist, there is evidence of ice on the South Pole, and it is possible that other natural resources may also be present. However, much of this region remains unknown to us.
NASA suggests that due to the lack of illumination, many craters in the South Pole remain perpetually in shadow, increasing the likelihood of ice accumulation. This ice is estimated to be billions of years old, making it a valuable source of information about the solar system.
If water or ice is indeed discovered, it will provide insights into the movement of water and other substances within the solar system. Similar to how ice from Earth’s polar regions has helped unravel our planet’s climate and atmospheric evolution over millennia, lunar ice can offer critical knowledge about the history of the solar system.
The potential applications of water or ice on the Moon are substantial. Besides serving as a source of drinking water, it can be used for cooling equipment, manufacturing rocket fuel, and facilitating research activities.
However, reaching the South Pole of the Moon presents significant challenges. The primary obstacle is the darkness that pervades the region. The absence of an atmosphere on the Moon, unlike Earth, makes landing a lander or any spacecraft extremely challenging. NASA highlights the difficulty in determining the terrain and the potential risks of temperature fluctuations that could damage equipment, despite employing advanced technology and sophisticated landers.
Nevertheless, concerted efforts are underway worldwide to explore this intriguing region. NASA, in particular, is preparing to send astronauts to the South Pole in the coming year.
What is the purpose of Chandrayaan 3?
Chandrayaan 3 shares the same objective as Chandrayaan-2, which is to achieve a soft landing on the south pole of the moon. The estimated cost of ISRO’s third moon mission is approximately Rs 615 crore.
According to ISRO, Chandrayaan 3 has three primary objectives. Firstly, it aims to safely and softly land the Vikram Lander on the lunar surface. Secondly, it aims to demonstrate the mobility of the Pragyan Rover on the moon’s surface. Lastly, it aims to conduct scientific experiments.
The mission will consist of three payloads with the Vikram Lander and two with the Pragyan Rover. In simpler terms, payloads can be referred to as machines or instruments.
Although the rover will detach from the lander, the two will remain connected. Any information gathered by the rover will be transmitted to the lander, which will then relay it back to ISRO.
The payloads of both the lander and rover will be dedicated to studying the lunar surface. Their main objectives include detecting water and minerals present on the moon’s surface, as well as investigating the occurrence of lunar earthquakes.
When will Chandrayaan 3 reach the Moon?
Chandrayaan 3 is expected to reach the Moon and perform a soft landing on August 23 or 24. The spacecraft has a distance of 3.84 lakh kilometers to cover in order to reach its destination. The lander module, carried by the spacecraft, will begin its descent during this period, aiming for a gentle landing in the Moon’s south pole region. The selection of the south pole region is significant due to its larger size compared to the north pole and the possibility of water presence in the shadowed areas nearby.
What is special about Chandrayaan 3?
One of the notable features of the Chandrayaan 3 mission is the presence of the HAbitable payload on its propulsion module. This payload focuses on spectro-polarimetry of the Earth and conducts studies of our planet from the Moon’s orbit. It serves as an experimental payload specifically designed to examine the SHAPE spectro-polarimetric signature of the Earth. In addition to this specialized payload, the propulsion module fulfills its primary function of propelling the lander module from the launch vehicle’s injection orbit until the moment of separation.
When was Chandrayaan 3 launched?
Chandrayaan 3 was successfully launched on July 14 from the Sriharikota space station in Andhra Pradesh.
What is the cost of Chandrayaan 3?
Chandrayaan 3 was developed with a budget of approximately Rs 615 crore, which is less than $75 million.