Chandrayaan 2 will lift off on July 15, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Sivan announced on Wednesday, as the space agency rounds up preparation to send its most complex mission to the moon.
Scheduled for launch at 2:51 AM from the spaceport at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, India’s sophomore lunar exploration mission comprises a lander, rover, and satellite, built indigenously under ISRO’s supervision.
With Chandrayaan 2, India will try to go where Israel couldn’t—executing a perfect touchdown. It will also attempt to enter uncharted territory by landing on the south pole of the moon—a feat never tried before.
Why the south pole?
Upon successful completion on September 6-7, it will not only launch the country on the South Pole of the moon but also into an elite club of space superpowers.
A touchdown will make India the fourth country to pull off a moon landing, after the US, Russia, and China.
But nobody has attempted a landing on the south pole before. The ISRO chief said the landing site, about 70 degrees south latitude, is the southernmost for any mission till date.
Ample solar light for solar power, the near-flat surface with good visibility for a safe landing and an expected higher presence of water and minerals are the main reasons why ISRO chose Moon’s south pole for landing, the agency said on Wednesday.
Chandrayaan 2 will use the “Baahubali” or the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch (GSLV) MK-III vehicle for launch. On board will be three modules—Orbiter (with eight payloads), Lander (with three), and Rover (with two). The total mass of the aircraft will be 3.8 tons.
Orbiter, with scientific payloads, will be the first to launch into an Earth-bound orbit, after which the integrated module will reach the lunar orbit using the orbiter propulsion module; it has been designed to revolve around the moon for about a year.
Subsequently, Lander will separate from Orbiter and attempt a soft landing at the predetermined site, close to the lunar south pole, the ISRO said.
The rover is solar-powered, and one of its wheels will have the Ashoka Chakra, while the Lander will have the Tricolour on it. Each has a lifespan of 14 days to conduct experiments.
The Lander Vikram is named after the father of Indian space programme Vikram Sarabhai. The landing of Chandrayaan 2 is ISRO’s biggest challenge till now; the agency, which has never undertaken such a flight, has called the 15 minutes when the lander separates and before it soft-lands on the moon “terrifying moments”.
Tasks and tools onboard
The Rover will send back useful data that will help in the analysis of lunar soil. For this and other mineralogical and elemental studies of the lunar surface, the mission carries 13 Indian scientific instruments.
This includes tools to conduct imaging of rocks, to find elements like magnesium, calcium, and iron, and also for irrefutable signs of water. The mission will study the exosphere of the moon as well. The lander will further measure moonquakes.
A NASA instrument for LASER ranging will be carried as a mark of cooperation between the two space agencies. India has also rented NASA’s Deep Space Network for navigation and guidance.
Role of women
After taking India to space during Mangalyaan in 2013 and the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in 2014, the women scientists of ISRO continue to make a splash, breaking gender stereotypes and the glass ceiling in STEM.
Having played a key role in curating and spearheading Chandrayaan 2, project director M Vanitha and mission director Ritu Karidhal will be steering the mission.
Karidhal, an aerospace engineer, is known as the ‘Rocket Woman of India’ and was the deputy operations director during MOM. She received the ISRO Young Scientist Award in 2007 from APJ Abdul Kalam.
Meanwhile, Vanitha, a design engineer, is the first woman to hold the position of project director. She received the Best Woman Scientist award in 2006 from the Astronomical Society of India.
Even as Sivan seemed proud to announce these roles, the reality projects a gross imbalance in workforce ratio by gender. As per its 2018-2019 annual report, women constituted 20% of the total workforce of ISRO. In the scientists and technical category, women constitute an even lower 12%.
Cost of mission
On Wednesday, ISRO unveiled the modules currently housed at the ISRO Satellite Integration and Test Establishment in Bengaluru.
Speaking to reporters, Sivan noted that the satellites used in the mission cost Rs. 603 crore, while the GSLV MK III alone cost Rs. 375 crore. The total cost of the mission, according to NDTV, stands a little under Rs. 1,000 crore.
Chandrayaan 2 is an advanced version of Chandrayaan 1 mission, which was launched in 2009; it had 11 payloads—five from India, three from Europe, two from the US, and one from Bulgaria. The mission is widely credited for the discovery of water on the lunar surface.
Ex-ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair replugged his disappointment with the erstwhile UPA regime for stalling Chandrayaan 2 in favour of the Mars mission for political reasons. He claimed the second lunar mission was ready to take off long back.
A day after announcing the launch of Chandrayaan 2, Sivan announced on Thursday that India is planning to launch its own space station in the next decade, with Rs. 10 crore earmarked for it. According to the Times of India, work on key technology, i.e., space docking, has been going on for three years.
ISRO is also planning solar mission Aditya L1 in 2020 and India’s first manned mission Gaganyaan in 2022.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.