Fifty years after, a historic new moon landing mission is readying for launch. After , the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is set to launch the Chandrayaan-2 mission this Sunday with plans to become the first nation to land at the lunar south pole. It won’t feature humans, but Chandrayaan-2 is carrying three lunar exploration robots able to survey the moon from both the surface and the sky.
The launch is currently scheduled for Sunday, July 14 at 2:21 p.m. PT and will take place at India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, north of Chennai. The payload of Chandrayaan-2 consists of a lunar orbiter, a lunar lander and a lunar rover, and will be launched atop the ISRO-developed GSLV Mk-III rocket. That rocket is about half as powerful as the SpaceX Falcon 9 and will put Chandrayaan-2 into what is known as an “Earth parking orbit” before the module uses its own power to extend its orbit and eventually position itself for a lunar rendezvous.
ISRO are yet to provide information on whether the launch will be livestreamed or not, so check back here in the coming days.
Why is this mission called Chandrayaan-2?
This is the sequel to Chandrayaan-1, an ISRO mission that launched 11 years ago featuring only a lunar orbiter. That orbiter reached the moon on Nov. 8, 2008 and then fired an impacter which struck the south pole. The material ejected from the sub surface allowed ISRO to detect lunar water ice — a valuable resource that could enable future exploration. Chandrayaan-2 will look to build on this monumental discovery from the ground.
When will Chandrayaan-2 reach the moon?
Provided Chandrayaan-2 launches on time, it is expected to reach the moon on Sept. 6, 2019. If it can achieve the difficult feat of landing on the surface, India will become just the fourth nation to complete a soft landing in history, following the US, Russia and China, which currently has the Chang’e 4 rover.
The lander and rover are headed for the lunar south pole, exploring a scientifically important region that has been shown to contain water ice. The lunar lander, known as “Vikram,” and a rover, known as “Pragyan,” will set up shop in the south, far further than any previous mission to the moon. The proposed landing spot is between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N.
A video of all the moon landing sites — and Chandrayaan-2’s proposed finishing spot — is below:
All three of ISRO’s robotic explorers have different lifespans and will be looking to achieve key science goals in their limited time exploring the moon. Chief among these goals is the ability to understand the composition of the moon, allowing for a deeper understanding of its origin and its evolution.
There are 12 payloads on board, with five on both the orbiter and lander and two on the rover. The lander will only operate for a single lunar day (two weeks on Earth). NASA is also hitching a ride on the lunar lander with a laser retroreflector, a device that can help measure the distance between the Earth and Moon.
The orbiter will operate for a year in a circular orbit around the poles and carries radar and spectrometers that will enable study of the moon’s surface and exosphere. Predominantly, these instruments should enable a greater understanding of the moon’s water ice deposits. A mapping camera will also provide a 3D map of the terrain.
The Pragyan rover, powered by the sun and AI, will cross the lunar surface at the blistering pace of 1 centimeter per second carrying instruments that can assess the molecules present on the moon.