At the moment, the Chandrayaan-3 mission launched by India last July is orbiting the Moon, waiting to start the braking sequence that will take it to the south pole region. The chosen landing site is about 150 kilometers north of the Bogulawsky crater, where Russia wanted to land its Luna-25 spacecraft to win this new space race. But on Sunday Moscow lost communication and its probe crashed into the satellite; a new demonstration of how complicated it is to land on the moon. Only the United States, the Soviet Union, and China have done so so far. No one has yet done it near the pole, where there may be huge reserves of frozen water to sustain future manned space missions.
“We have no reasons for concern, but we do have reasons for anxiety,” Anil Bhardwaj, director of the Indian Physical Research Laboratory, who has been working in the Asian country’s space program for almost 30 years, admits to EL PAÍS. “At the moment everything is going according to plan, our aircraft is in perfect condition and we hope to be able to land on Wednesday around six in the afternoon, Indian time (9:30 p.m. Spanish peninsular time),” he adds.
The moon landing will be broadcast live. The Indian space agency, ISRO in its English acronym, has encouraged educational centers across the country to follow the event with all students. This mission is “a new chapter of the Indian space odyssey” and makes “the dreams and ambitions of all our citizens” fly, said the country’s president, Narendra Modi, in statements collected by Reuters.
India is a rising space power, and its probes have already made history. In 2009, Chandrayaan-1 discovered water ice at the Moon’s poles. In 2019, the country sent Chandrayaan-2, an orbital probe and lander that was to become the first human spacecraft to land at the South Pole. A programming glitch caused it to crash, but the orbiter has remained in good use to this day. Their images have enabled Indian engineers to see the surface of the pole with an enormous resolution of 30 centimeters per pixel, which in turn has allowed them to improve the technology of Chandrayaan-3 and select its new landing point, where there are no dangerous craters or stone blocks. “This time we are much more confident that the area is safe,” acknowledges Bhardwaj.
Here are the images of
Lunar far side area
captured by the
Lander Hazard Detection and Avoidance Camera (LHDAC).
This camera that assists in locating a safe landing area — without boulders or deep trenches — during the descent is developed by ISRO… pic.twitter.com/rwWhrNFhHB
— ISRO (@isro) August 21, 2023
Landing on the moon is a devilish task because there is no air to stop. Robotic ships do not have great maneuverability beyond their automatic imaging and guidance systems. And the south pole of the Moon is one of the most rugged and riddled with craters. If something fails, the chances of failure are enormous.
The new Chandrayaan will try to succeed where Russia, which sent its first lunar mission in 47 years, Japan, which recently lost the private Hakuto-R probe, and Israel, which wanted to arrive before India, in April 2019, failed on Sunday. but also succumbed. In a few days, this space race will continue with a new attempt by Japan, in this case by its space agency, to land in the equatorial zones with the SLIM mission.
Chandrayaan-3 will make landfall just as it is dawning on the Moon. There the days last 14 terrestrial days and the nights, so many others. At sunset temperatures can drop to 200 below zero, perhaps too much for the probes to survive if they don’t have a heating system—the one on the ill-fated Luna-25 was powered by radioactive uranium. The Chandrayaan does not have a heat generator beyond its solar panels, so its official lifetime is 14 days of sunshine. But Bhardwaj does not rule out that he returns to his past life on the first night. “We can only wait and see,” he acknowledges.
The Chandrayaan-3 carries the Vikram lander, a nearly two-tonne craft named after Vikram Sarabhai, the creator of the Indian space program in 1947, the year India gained independence from the United Kingdom.
The spacecraft will start operating about 10 minutes after the moon landing, when all the dust it kicks up has settled. After checking that everything works, in about four hours, a ramp will be deployed through which Pragyan —wisdom in Sanskrit— will descend, a six-wheeled vehicle weighing almost 30 kilos that will be able to roll a few hundred meters around the starting point. landing.
Craters on the Moon captured by the Chandrayaan-3 lander’s position detection camera on August 19. ISRO
This rover carries two scientific instruments on board to analyze the chemical composition of the terrain. One of them fires a powerful beam of laser light to break down the compounds and detect up to 16 different elements, including oxygen and hydrogen that make up water.
Vikram carries four other scientific instruments. One of them is a probe that will measure the temperature of the subsoil up to a depth of 10 centimeters. Your data is key to knowing if there may be frozen water and how outside temperature changes affect it.
The Vikram also carries a reflector made by the US space agency NASA on board. It is an update of those carried by the Apollo spacecraft, which carried the first astronauts to the Moon in the late 1960s. This instrument allows a laser beam to be fired from Earth and receives the reflection, thus measuring the distance with great precision.
If Chandrayaan-3 is successful, it will be a world milestone. “They will be the first measurements in situ from the South Pole of the Moon; all the information will be completely new” and very useful for future missions in India and other countries, emphasizes Bhardwaj.
India is already preparing one more twist. His space agency is developing the LUCAX mission in collaboration with the Japanese agency, JAXA. This new mission will carry an Indian-developed lander and a Japanese-created rover. Its destination is even more hostile than the current one: the perpetual shadow areas near the South Pole, where sunlight never reaches and it is more likely that there is a large amount of ice. This same area, filled with craters that look like black holes, is the stated goal of the United States, which plans to bring the first non-white woman and man there in December 2025.
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