With first mission to land on lunar south pole, India aims to join club comprising Russia, US and China
India’s mission to the moon has blasted into space one week after a technical glitch forced scientists to abruptly halt its scheduled launch, The Guardian reports.
Thousands gathered to watch Chandrayaan-2 take off at 2.43pm local time (0913 GMT) on Monday from Satish Dhawan space centre in Sriharikota, north of Chennai.
Last Monday, the unmanned mission was aborted 56 minutes from takeoff. The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) blamed a “technical snag”. Indian media later reported that scientists had found a leak while filling helium in the rocket’s cryogenic engine.
In a speech after the launch, Kailasavadivoo Sivan, chairman of Isro, said the agency’s staff had worked tirelessly to fix the fault and had “bounced back with flying colours”.
“It is the beginning of a historical journey of India towards the moon, and to land at a place near the south pole to carry out scientific experiments to explore the unexplored,” said Sivan.
Scientists in the control room applauded as the spacecraft launched into space. It will spend 23 days in the Earth’s orbit, before beginning a series of manoeuvres that will take it into lunar orbit.
With India poised to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, Narendra Modi’s ardently nationalist government is eager to show off the country’s prowess in security and technology.
On Monday the prime minister tweeted: “The
the prowess of our scientists and the determination of 130 crore [1.3 billion]
Indians to scale new frontiers of science. Every Indian is immensely proud
It was, he added, a “fully indigenous” project, using Indian technology.
Chandrayaan-2 aims to become the first mission to conduct a surface landing on the lunar south pole region, where it will collect crucial information about the moon’s composition. It would be India’s first surface landing on the moon – a feat previously achieved by only Russia, the US and China.
The $141m (£113m) mission is a “demonstration of the growing sophistication of India’s space power”, said Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, head of the nuclear and space policy initiative at the Observer Research Foundation thinktank in Delhi.
India launched its first lunar probe in 2008, and guided a spacecraft into orbit around Mars in 2014. Its space programmes are famously thrifty, and its Mars mission, Modi has joked, had a smaller budget than that of the film Gravity.
India’s achievements in space have been hailed by Modi as a mark of the country’s rising ambition as a global power. In March, he announced that the country had successfully shot down one of its own satellites with a missile. Though celebrated by Modi as a breakthrough for India’s national security, the missile test was criticised by Nasa for creating hundreds of pieces of orbital debris and threatening astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The launch of Chandrayaan-2 follows the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, and comes amid renewed interest in returning to the moon among states and private industry. In January China landed the Chang’e 4 spacecrafton the previously unexplored far side of the moon, while in April the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet, the first privately funded mission to the moon, crashed after an apparent engine failure. Donald Trump has also said he wants to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024.
Chandrayaan-2 – Sanskrit for “moon craft” – is India’s most ambitious space mission yet. Its first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, helped to confirm the presence of water on the moon, but did so without landing on the lunar surface. Sivan said carrying out a soft landing would be “15 terrifying minutes”.
At the forefront of the Chandrayaan-2 mission are two women. Its
project director, Muthayya Vanitha, an electronics system engineer, was named
by the science journal Nature as one of
five scientists to watch in 2019. It is also being navigated by Ritu
Karidhal, who helped to lead India’s Mars
mission in 2014.
It will take more than six weeks to travel about 238,600 miles (384,000km) to the moon. The four-tonne spacecraft has a lunar orbiter, a lander named Vikram after the founder of Isro, and a rover. The rover, named Pragyan, which means “wisdom” in Sanskrit, will spend two weeks traversing the moon’s surface. The six-wheeled vehicle, which will be deployed in early September, will collect crucial information about the mineral and chemical composition of the lunar surface, and search for water.
The lunar south pole is interesting to scientists because they believe water may be present on its vast shadowed areas. The lunar south pole also has craters that are cold traps and which contain a fossil record of the early solar system, according to Isro.
As well as Chandrayaan-2, India has said it aims to send three astronauts into space by 2022.