India’s Chandrayaan-3 Mission: Searching for a Safe Landing Spot on the Moon’s South Pole

India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has released captivating images of the far side of the Moon as its third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, embarks on its quest to find a safe landing spot on the unexplored south pole. The images were taken by the lander, Vikram, which is equipped with a rover and is scheduled to touch down on August 23. This comes shortly after Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the Moon’s surface due to control issues, ending its mission before it reached the south pole. The Lunar-25 mission would have marked Russia’s first successful landing on the Moon in half a century.

ISRO’s announcement on Monday revealed that Vikram has been performing detailed mapping of the landing area and capturing images using its “hazard detection and avoidance” camera. These images, predominantly black-and-white, will aid in identifying a safe landing site free from boulders and deep trenches. The lunar far side, often referred to as “the dark side of the Moon,” remains largely unknown, making lunar landings there particularly challenging. However, scientists are highly interested in this region due to its potential for harboring frozen water and valuable resources.

On Sunday, ISRO confirmed that the lander module of Chandrayaan-3 had completed successful maneuvers to achieve a closer orbit around the Moon (25km by 134km) and is presently awaiting sunrise to initiate the landing process. If the mission is triumphant, India will become the first nation to successfully touch down on the lunar south pole. Currently, the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China are the only countries to have accomplished a soft landing on the Moon.

Chandrayaan-3 succeeds India’s previous lunar exploration missions, with a 15-year gap since the inaugural mission in 2008. The earlier expedition made significant discoveries, including the detection of water molecules on the Moon’s arid surface and the revelation of diurnal lunar atmospheric activity. Chandrayaan-2, launched in July 2019, consisted of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover. While the orbiter remains operational, the lander-rover duo’s attempted soft landing was unsuccessful and resulted in a crash. Consequently, ISRO thoroughly analyzed the data from the failed mission and conducted simulations to rectify the issues for Chandrayaan-3. This upcoming endeavor weighs 3,900kg and carries a price tag of 6.1 billion rupees ($75 million). The lander module itself weighs approximately 1,500kg, including the 26kg-rover named Pragyaan.

The Moon’s south pole is an area ripe for exploration as its surface contains large shadowed regions, suggesting the possible presence of water. Chandrayaan-3’s primary objective is to search for water ice, which could potentially support future human settlements on the Moon. Moreover, the discovery of water could be a valuable resource for producing propellant for spacecraft headed to destinations such as Mars.

By venturing to uncharted territory on the lunar south pole, India aims to make substantial advancements in space exploration and contribute to the collective knowledge of humanity’s cosmic surroundings. If successful, Chandrayaan-3 will not only solidify India’s position as a frontrunner in space missions but also inspire further research and collaborative efforts in lunar exploration.