India lands robotic Chandrayaan-3 near Moon’s south pole
India has successfully soft-landed a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, becoming only the fourth country to do so, and the first to touchdown at the south pole region.
Chandrayaan-3 delicately touched down on the lunar surface at 8:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 UTC) Aug. 23, to begin a planned 14-day mission, equivalent to one lunar day. The robotic lander and attached rover are designed to study the Moon’s surface at the south pole region, which is thought to include water ice in some areas.
“We have achieved a soft landing on the Moon,” Shri Somanath, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, said in a statement moments after confirmation of a successful touchdown. “India is on the Moon.”
The Chandrayaan-3 landing comes just three days after Russia’s Luna 25 spacecraft experienced an engine glitch and crashed on the surface just a day before its planned landing. Luna 25 was also targeting the south pole region. The last time a Russian spacecraft attempted such a mission was back in 1976 during the Soviet Union era.
India’s achievement is itself a follow-up to India’s previous landing attempt in 2019, which faced a setback due to a software glitch that caused the spacecraft to crash just moments before it could safely land.
The previous Chandrayaan-2 mission launched in 2019 included an orbiter that continues to orbit the Moon, contributing valuable data and insights.
Largely resembling its predecessor, the 3,860-pound (1,750-kilogram) Chandrayaan-3 lander is equipped with a rover named Pragyan. Both are designed to operate for an estimated two weeks.
The mission’s launch occurred July 14 atop an LVM3 rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. The spacecraft’s journey to the Moon culminated Aug. 5 when it entered lunar orbit.
The solar-powered lander boasts three key payloads: Chandra’s Surface Thermosphysical Experiment, aimed at measuring the lunar surface’s thermal conductivity and temperature; an Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity to study seismicity in the landing area; and a Langmuir Probe to estimate plasma density and its fluctuations.
To further facilitate lunar studies, NASA provided a retroreflector array that will enable the bouncing of lasers for lunar ranging investigations.
The 57-pound (26-kilogram) rover, also powered by solar energy, is equipped with a Particle X-Ray Sectrometer and a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope to enhance its scientific capabilities.
Chandrayaan-3’s successful landing elevates India’s position in space exploration, placing them as the second country in the 21st century to achieve a robotic lunar landing, following China’s series of successful missions since 2013.
The years between the Soviet Union’s 1976 Luna-24 mission and 2013 saw no lunar landings. But since 2013, there have been a total of eight robotic landing attempts, with three taking place in 2023 alone. The players have included China, India, Israel and Japan and Russia. The success rate has been mixed — half have failed with only China and India having been successful.
Notably, there are plans for as many as three more robotic surface missions later this year, involving Japan and companies from the United States.
China has been a prominent player in recent lunar missions, achieving success with Chang’e 3 in 2013 and Chang’e 4 in 2018, both of which involved rovers. The latter included the first surface landing on the Moon’s far side.
Additionally, China’s Chang’e 5 mission in 2020 successfully returned lunar samples to Earth, the first time in more than 40 years.
Japan’s contributions are set to continue with the upcoming SLIM mission, which stands for “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon.” It’s scheduled for an Aug. 26 launch. Furthermore, U.S.-based Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic Technology have missions in the pipeline, with launches planned for later this year or early next year.
Activity on and around the Moon, particularly near the south pole, is expected to increase over the next several years with China and the U.S. both planning human missions before the end of the decade.
“India’s successful Moon mission is not just India’s alone,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech following the successful landing of Chandrayaan-3. “Success belongs to all of humanity and will help Moon missions by other countries in the future. I’m confident that all countries of the world, including those from the Global South, are capable of achieving such feats. We can all aspire for the Moon and beyond.”
Video courtesy of ISRO
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.