India will launch a mission to the moon later this week hoping to become the fourth country to land a craft on the lunar surface.
So far only three countries — the United States, Russia and China — have achieved what is called a “soft landing” on the moon in which vehicles touch down without damage.
The mission marks the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) second attempt to land a rover on the moon — a previous effort nearly four years ago failed.
The spacecraft called Chandrayaan-3, which means moon vehicle in Sanskrit, is scheduled to be launched Friday afternoon (2:35 p.m. Indian time) It is equipped with a lander and a robotic rover that are expected to land on the moon on August 23 or August 24 to map the lunar surface for about two weeks.
“The date is decided based on when the sunrise is on the moon; it will depend on the calculations, but if it gets delayed, then we will have to keep the landing for the next month in September,” ISRO director S. Somanath said.
He said the main objective is to demonstrate “a safe and soft landing.”
India aims to land its rover on the South Pole of the moon, a previously unexplored part that lies in near darkness. It will study the topography of this region.
“There is expectation that the southern parts of the moon have a lot of mineral deposits and helium-3. There is also the possibility of water deposits there,” Ajey Lele, a space consultant with the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi told VOA.
Through such studies of the moon’s topography, India’s upcoming space flight to the moon “has the potential to contribute to scientific understanding that will underpin a variety of future lunar missions, including those by other actors,” Tomas Hrozensky at the European Space Policy Institute told VOA in emailed comments.
India’s moon mission in 2019 had successfully deployed a lunar orbiter, but the lander crashed during the final moments of its descent to the lunar surface — a setback to its main goal.
Aiming for ‘soft’ landing
Lele says there is optimism about Chandrayaan-3 achieving a “soft” landing. “The glitches that led to the failure of the previous mission have been fixed. Basically, they have made the lander system more sturdy, so it can withstand any impact.”
The latest space project is part of India’s ambitions to showcase its homegrown technological capabilities in space and be seen as a leading space-faring nation.
“After a quantum rise in our space expertise, India can no longer wait to be left behind in the march to the moon,” India’s space minister, Jitendra Singh, said Sunday.
India’s space program has notched several milestones. Its first mission to the moon in 2008 helped confirm the presence of water. In 2013, it put a satellite in orbit around Mars. Its space agency is also preparing for its most ambitious space mission yet — a human spaceflight next year.
Delivering on “an ambitious and technologically challenging vision serves a profound benefit for perception of the government’s capability both within and outside of the country,” according to Hrozensky.
US, India teaming up
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in exploring the moon as scientists seek to determine whether it will be possible to mine the moon for minerals and other resources that are shrinking on earth.
Outer space is one of the areas in which India and the U.S. decided to deepen collaboration during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington last month. U.S. President Joe Biden said that the two countries are joining hands to send an Indian astronaut to the International Space Station next year.
India has also signed on to the Artemis Accords, an American-led international partnership for space cooperation that, among other objectives, aims to send humans to the Moon by 2025 after a gap of five decades.