India’s Historic Chandrayaan-2 Moon Probe Enters Lunar Orbit

Image of the near side of the moon.
Ponciano / Pixabay

Chandrayaan-2, India’s second and most daring mission to the moon, reached lunar orbit on Tuesday morning, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced in a news release. After four weeks in space, the Chandrayaan-2 probe successfully entered the orbit of the moon at 9:02 a.m. local time (around midnight Eastern Time), acing a complicated lunar orbit insertion (LOI) maneuver that lasted for nearly 30 minutes.

“Our hearts almost stopped today till it completed its job,” ISRO chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan told reporters at a news conference.

Also known as Moon Chariot 2, the Chandrayaan-2 mission represents India’s first attempt to land on lunar soil. But before the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft – whose name translates as “lunar vehicle-2” in Sanskrit – can deploy its lander on the lunar surface next month, the probe first needed to position itself into an orbit around the moon — a crucial milestone successfully achieved this week.

“The LOI maneuver was performed successfully today morning using the onboard propulsion system for a firing duration of about 29 minutes,” Sivan said in a statement.

“The satellite is currently located in a lunar orbit with a distance of about 114 km at perilune (nearest point to the moon) and 18,072 km at apolune (farthest point to the moon).”

As Phys.org points out, the probe’s insertion into lunar orbit was a particularly tricky maneuver, requiring an optimal speed of execution. Had the spacecraft approached the moon at a slower velocity, it would have been sucked in by the moon’s gravity, ultimately crashing into the lunar surface. Conversely, if Chandrayaan-2 had been traveling at a higher speed, the spacecraft would have bounced off of the moon’s orbit and gotten lost in deep space.

Following the success of this maneuver, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, congratulated the ISRO in a message shared to Twitter, as reported by CNN.

The next step for the intrepid spacecraft is to enter a final orbit over the lunar poles, positioning itself at a distance of about 62 miles from the moon’s surface. In order to do so, the Chandrayaan 2 probe will perform four more similar maneuvers, scheduled to occur between August 21 and September 1.

Launched last month from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota, in Andhra Pradesh state, the Chandrayaan-2 mission took to space on July 22 atop India’s most powerful rocket, the GSLV Mk III. The spacecraft weighs around 7,253 pounds and is comprised of three elements – an orbiter, a lander, and a rover. The ultimate goal of the Chandrayaan-2 mission is to perform a soft landing near the moon’s south pole. By doing so, India hopes to become the fourth nation to land on the moon, after the former Soviet Union, the United States, and China.

The GSLV Mk III M1 rocket carrying the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft lifts off from its launch pad at SDSC SHAR on July 22.
The GSLV Mk III M1 rocket carrying the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft lifts off from its launch pad at SDSC SHAR on July 22. Indian Space Research Organisation (GODL-India) / Wikimedia Commons/Resized
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As The Inquisitr previously reported, the endeavor is considered to be one of the most challenging ever attempted. Unlike previous moon landings, which targeted the moon’s equator, the Chandrayaan-2 mission will be landing approximately 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.

The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft is slated to deploy its lander in early September. Named Vikram – after the pioneer of the Indian space program, Vikram Sarabhai – the lander will separate from the orbiter on September 7 and gently touch down on the moon’s surface near the south pole. The Vikram spacecraft will land 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.

Accompanying the lander will be a six-wheeled robotic rover tasked with exploring the lunar terrain surrounding the landing site. Dubbed Pragyan (meaning “wisdom”), the solar-powered rover will trek the lunar surface over the course of one lunar day, or 14 Earth days, to map out the uncharted territory near the moon’s south pole. After that, it will enter sleep mode and await for sunlight to recharge its battery before it can power up again.

Engineering model of the Chandrayaan-2 rover, displayed at 6th Bangalore Space Expo 2018.
Engineering model of the Chandrayaan-2 rover, displayed at 6th Bangalore Space Expo 2018. Dean Sumith (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Pragyan rover was designed to be operational for one year. Over the course of its mission, it will collect mineral and chemical samples from the moon’s surface, beaming back data, as well as images, from its location on the moon.