India’s first lunar lander is on its way to the moon

Chandrayaan 2 mission’s rover will explore closer to the moon’s south pole than any other rover

Chandrayaan 2 launch

UP AND AWAY  The Chandrayaan 2 mission launches from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center.


India’s first moon lander is on its way to the lunar south pole.

At  5:13 a.m. EDT on July 22, the Chandrayaan 2 mission launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center on India’s southeast coast. The mission consists of an orbiter; a lander named Vikram after Indian space scientist Vikram Sarabhai; and a rover named Pragyan, the Sanskrit word for wisdom.

The spacecraft was originally scheduled to launch in May, but was delayed for more safety checks after the Israeli-built Beresheet lander crashed on the moon in April (SN Online: 4/11/19).  The launch was delayed a second time on July 14 “as a measure of abundant caution,” when the countdown was called off an hour before liftoff due to a “technical snag,” the Indian space agency tweeted.

If successful,  India will become the fourth nation to safely land a spacecraft on the moon, after the former Soviet Union, the Unites States and China.

The lander and rover are expected to touch down at a site between two craters on September 7. After landing, the Pragyan rover will separate from the lander and drive up to 500 meters across the landscape. The rover carries a pair of spectrometers to measure the elemental composition of the lunar soil.

The rover and lander will last about one lunar day, or 14 Earth days, and will run out of power during the lunar night. The orbiter will continue to observe the moon for a year.

The targeted landing site is at about 70° S latitude, putting India’s lander closer to the moon’s south pole than any previous landers. China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft, which landed in a large impact basin on the farside of the moon in January, sits at about 45.5° S latitude (SN: 2/2/19, p. 5).

The south pole is interesting to scientists not just because it hasn’t been studied much before, but also because lunar orbiters — including India’s first lunar visitor, Chandrayaan 1 — have seen evidence for water molecules in the soil there (SN: 10/24/09, p. 10). There could also be water ice hidden in permanently shadowed craters near the south pole (SN Online: 11/13/09).

Chandrayaan 2 is part of a new wave of moon missions as space agencies around the world reset their sights on Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor (SN: 11/24/18, p. 14).

Lisa Grossman is the astronomy writer. She has a degree in astronomy from Cornell University and a graduate certificate in science writing from University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives near Boston.

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