Chandrayaan-2, India's second lunar exploration mission, is not only the country's most ambitious space mission so far but also quite possibly the most challenging moon landing ever attempted.
After rescheduling the mission from March to April, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has finally set a landing destination, which will boldly take the Chandrayaan-2 rover into uncharted territory near the moon's south pole, International Business Times reports.
Unlike previous moon landings, which targeted the moon's equator, the Chandrayaan-2 rover will be landing approximately 600 kilometers (about 372 miles) from the lunar south pole — an unprecedented feat in the history of moon exploration. If everything goes as planned, this will be the first landing to take place so far from the moon's equator, Interesting Engineering notes.
"There has been a rebirth of lunar exploration across the globe, and India can't be left behind," Mylswamy Annadurai, director of the ISRO Satellite Centre, said in a statement.
India's second lunar probe will be launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, atop a Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark II rocket.
The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft, which quite literally means "lunar vehicle-2" in Sanskrit, weighs approximately 3,290 kg (or about 7,253 pounds) and will be carrying an orbiter, a lander, and a six-wheeled rover — for which the use of the heavy-payload lifter GSLV Mk II is necessary.The module is expected to reach the moon's orbit in a maximum of two months' time, ISRO chairman Dr. K. Sivan told Times of India. The GSLV rocket will initially put the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft in a large elliptical orbit around the moon (170 kilometers by 20,000 kilometers), from where "the craft will be maneuvered towards the lunar orbit" via thrusters, Dr. Sivan stated.
Once this step is completed, the lander housing the rover will detach from the orbiter, and following a "controlled descent," will perform a soft-landing near the moon's south pole, the ISRO chairman explained.
"Chandraayan-2 is a challenging mission as for the first time we will carry an orbiter, a lander and a rover to the moon," he said, adding that the launch has been scheduled for "sometime in April."
"The launch date will depend on various factors like the moon's relative position with respect to the Earth."The mission's goal is to deploy the six-wheeled Chandrayaan-2 rover on an ancient high plain of the moon, located at a latitude of about 70 degrees south, between two craters — Manzinus C and Simpelius N. Here, the rover will be able to move freely across the lunar surface "in semi-autonomous mode," shows ISRO on its website.
During its trek across the moon's surface, the Chandrayaan-2 rover will collect a wide range of scientific data regarding "lunar topography, mineralogy, elemental abundance, lunar exosphere and signatures of hydroxyl and water-ice," details the Indian space agency.
However, this is not an easy task considering the rover is powered by solar cells, which depend on direct sunlight to recharge – the one thing the poles can't offer in abundance. Due to the restricted access to direct sunlight in the area, the Chandrayaan-2 rover will have to conduct its scientific research over the course of one lunar day, or 14 days on Earth."The rover has been designed in such a way that it will have power to spend a lunar day, or 14 Earth days, on the moon's surface and walk up to 150-200 meters (about 492 to 656 feet). It will do several experiments and on-site chemical analysis of the surface," Dr. Sivan pointed out.
"The rover will then send data and images of the lunar surface back to the Earth through the orbiter within 15 minutes," he specified.
Once the 14 days have passed, the Chandrayaan-2 rover will enter sleep mode until it will be able to hopefully recharge its solar cells "whenever that part of the moon (where the rover will land) gets sunlight," he added.
According to Science Magazine, the mission's cost is estimated at $150 million. Chandraayan-2 is tasked with gathering information on the moon's thin envelope of plasma, as well as isotopes such as helium-3, which could one day fuel fusion energy reactors.
In addition, the orbiter itself will also capture images of the moon, following up on the huge breakthrough scored nine years ago by India's first lunar exploration mission, Chandraayan-1. Launched in October 2008, Chandrayaan-1 discovered water molecules in a moon crater in 2009.
Dr. Sivan also commented on the mission's current stage of development.
"All three components of the lunar module are almost ready. Currently, their integration is going on. Once the module is ready, it will have to go through rigorous tests."