Chandrayaan-3 is the third lunar mission launched by India’s space agency, ISRO. The primary objective of the mission is to soft land the lander and rover on the lunar surface, focusing on the south polar region of the Moon. The effort aims to facilitate scientific exploration for approximately one lunar day, equivalent to 14 Earth days. Notably, the rover weighing 26 kilograms (57 lb) was carried within the lander, and both vehicles are equipped with scientific instruments for surface analysis.
The mission achieved a successful soft landing in the south polar region of the Moon on August 23, 2023. The design of the Chandrayaan-3 lander and rover is similar to their counterparts from the Chandrayaan-2 mission. The mission’s precursor, Chandrayaan-2, had a lander named Vikram, which suffered a failed landing due to a software glitch, resulting in a loss of communication with the spacecraft. However, the Chandrayaan-2 mission yielded valuable information as its orbiter continued to orbit the Moon and make scientific observations, including the detection of water ice in shadowed craters.
Learning from the challenges faced during the Chandrayaan-2 mission, ISRO enhanced the software and conducted extensive testing to ensure the success of Chandrayaan-3. Unlike Chandrayaan-2, this mission notably features a lander and rover without an orbiter component. The propulsion module accompanying the lander is equipped with a scientific instrument intended to observe Earth as a surrogate exoplanet, contributing to future exoplanetary studies.
Chandrayaan-3‘s journey to the lunar surface will last about 40 days, beginning with India’s LVM3 rocket launching on July 14, 2023. LVM3 is a robust launch vehicle capable of deploying payloads up to 8 metric tons into low Earth orbit. After launch, the spacecraft and attached propulsion module entered an extended Earth orbit with a high point (apogee) of approximately 36,500 kilometers (22,700 mi). The propulsion module performed several orbit-raising maneuvers before reaching lunar orbit.
Upon reaching the Moon, the propulsion module helped lift Chandrayaan-3 into a circular orbit at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 mi). At this juncture, the lander and propulsion module separated, allowing the lander to begin its descent and eventually land in the south polar region of the Moon. The expected landing parameters were a vertical speed of less than 2 meters per second and a horizontal speed of 0.5 meters per second.
After a successful landing, the Chandrayaan-3 mission reached a significant milestone, catapulting ISRO into a select group of countries with the capability to land spacecraft on extraterrestrial surfaces. The mission not only represents an achievement in itself but also includes technical demonstrations and scientific investigations.
After landing, the side panels of the Chandrayaan-3 lander will open, creating a ramp for the deployment of the rover. The rover, powered by solar panels, will traverse lunar terrain during its operational period of about two weeks. Since the rover can only communicate with the lander, which establishes a direct link with Earth, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter can serve as an alternate communication relay.
The rover’s scientific objectives include two main payloads:
Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS): This instrument identifies the chemical and mineralogical composition of the lunar surface.
Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS): APXS determines the elemental composition of the surface, focusing on elements such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, potassium, calcium, titanium and iron.
The lander, equipped with four payloads, is designed to conduct a range of scientific investigations:
Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive Ionosphere and Atmosphere (RAMBH): This payload tracks changes in the local gas and plasma atmosphere over time.
Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE): The ChaSTE instrument probes the thermal characteristics of the lunar surface.
Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA): ILSA measures seismic activity at the landing site to characterize the subsurface crust and mantle.
Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA): Provided by NASA, this retroreflector allows the study of lunar range, a method used to measure the distance to the Moon by analyzing the time it takes for a laser signal to bounce back.
What’s next for Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon?
After a successful touchdown, ISRO achieved a major feat, joining a select group of nations to have landed spacecraft on other celestial bodies. Moving past this milestone, Chandrayaan-3 has exciting technologies and important scientific work to demonstrate.
After its landing, Chandrayaan-3’s lander will open one of its side panels, creating a ramp for the rover. This will allow the rover to easily exit the interior of the lander, slide down the ramp, and begin exploration of the lunar landscape.
Both the lander and the rover are solar powered and they will have about two weeks to investigate the lunar environment. However, it is important to note that they are not designed to withstand the extremely cold lunar nights. In terms of communication, the rover can fully communicate with the lander, which acts as a direct link to Earth. Notably, ISRO has mentioned that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter can also step in as a backup communication relay if needed.
Chandrayaan-3’s Journey to the Moon
Chandrayaan-3 successfully reached the lunar surface in a journey of about 40 days.
The mission begins on July 14, 2023 with the launch of India’s powerful LVM3 rocket. This heavy-lift vehicle is capable of carrying approximately 8 metric tons to low-Earth orbit, although the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket can carry approximately 23 metric tons, for comparison.
The LVM3 rocket with the propulsion module attached took the spacecraft into an elongated orbit around Earth. This orbit had a high point known as the apogee, located about 36,500 kilometers (22,700 mi) above our planet. To advance towards the Moon, the propulsion module raised its orbit through a series of maneuvers until it transitioned to lunar orbit.
Upon reaching the Moon, the propulsion module began descent, allowing Chandrayaan-3’s altitude to gradually decrease until it was established in a circular orbit approximately 100 kilometers (62 mi) above the lunar surface. The two components of the mission then separated. This separation allowed the lander to descend and successfully touch down in the south polar region of the Moon. The anticipated landing scenario involved the lander moving at less than 2 meters per second vertically and 0.5 meters per second horizontally at the time of landing.
Three dimensional views of Chandrayaan-3 modules are provided below:
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