Charting Chandrayaan 2's Journey
Humanity has been curious about the moon for a long time.
Numerous missions, satellites and rovers have been sent to survey
it’s rocky surface, bringing back samples and photos. The years when
a mission to the moon was proof a nation’s superiority in terms of
technology and intellect are past. Although a journey to space is a
matter of national pride, science is now the main objective behind
many projects. It was to this effect that India’s second lunar expedition
was intended. Christened Chandrayaan 2, the lunar expedition was to
shine a light on the moon’s South Pole. Its objectives included mapping
the moon's topography, understanding lunar composition, water
molecule distribution, and seismic activity observation among others.
It also aimed to prove various technological advancements such as variable thrust propulsion. With the success of this mission, India would have become the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the South Pole of the moon, and third to operate a rover on its surface.
Chandrayaan 2 made its ascent to the heavens aboard the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III). Launch from the Second Launch Pad, The mission payload had three main components; the Orbiter, the Lander (Vikram), and the Rover (Pragyan). The orbiter observes the lunar surface and acts as a means of communication between Earth and Vikram. Eight instruments were fitted into it, seven were India's and one NASA's. The lander, Vikram, was designed to execute a soft landing on the lunar surface. A High-Resolution Camera (OHRC) on the orbiter ensured a safe touchdown by taking 3D images of the landing site. Pragyan, the rover, had six wheels and was to travel at the rate of 1cm/sec, traversing 500m on the whole. It would operate on solar power and communicate with lander.
On 22nd July 2019, GSLV Mk-III successfully launched Chandrayaan 2. Twenty-nine days after its launch, Chandrayaan 2 entered the moon's orbit on 20th August. Vikram began its descent into the lunar surface on 7th September. It was during this last part of this phase that it encountered several difficulties.
At around 400m from the moon, Vikram was in the Fine Braking Phase when there was a slight deviation from its path and contact with the control centre was subsequently lost. Despite persistent efforts to try and reestablish a connection with Vikram, these efforts proved fruitless. However, as if to compensate for the loss of the lander, the Orbiter remained in good shape, its life span increasing from one to seven years due to low fuel usage. Having the necessary instruments for observing the exosphere (the moon's outer atmosphere), it will continue to orbit and map the moon's surface and collect data.
Despite the loss of both the lander and rover, all was not lost for the Chandrayaan 2 mission. With most of its objectives met, Dr K Sivan, ISRO's Chairperson, termed it a 95% success.
Such missions, not only show the scientific development of our nation, but also the height of its aspirations. We have tried before, and we will try again, learning more each time.
"Space is hard. You have inspired us with your journey and (we) look forward to future opportunities to explore our solar system together."