A little while ago a GSLV Mk-III rocket blasted off from the Indian Satish Dhawan Space Centre with the Chandrayaan 2 mission’s orbiter, the Vikram lander and the Pragyaan rover. After just over 16 minutes, the vehicles separated from the rocket’s last stage to begin the series of maneuvers that will slowly stretch their orbit to bring them into the area of influence of the Moon, where the lander and rover’s landing is scheduled as soon as September 6.
Between 2008 and 2009 the Indian space agency ISRO completed its first Moon mission, Chandrayaan 1. In that case it was only an orbiter even though it was accompanied by the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) impactor, which crashed on the Moon’s surface on November 14, 2008 to collect useful data for subsequent missions. Thanks also to instruments provided by other agencies in an international collaboration, the orbiter was able to perform various surveys on the Moon. Over time it had various technical problems and after less than a year contact was lost, despite that it’s among the space probes that discovered traces of water on the Moon.
Originally, the Chandrayaan 2 mission was supposed to be in collaboration with the Russian space agency Roscosmos but the failure of the Russian Fobos-Grunt mission required an investigation to understand the technical problems suffered and the possible consequences on the lander the agency was supposed to provide to ISRO. Eventually, Roscosmos decided to withdraw due to the impossibility of supplying the lander on schedule and ISRO built one on its own. Apart from the laser reflector system provided by NASA to add precise measurements of the Earth-Moon distance to similar systems already present on the Moon, the Chandrayaan mission eventually has a payload totally produced in India.
The vehicles of the Chandrayaan 2 mission, far more ambitious than the previous one, weren’t pushed directly to the Moon despite having been launched by the most powerful Indian rocket because it’s still almost 4,000 kg of payload. This means that it will have to perform a complex series of maneuvers that are scheduled to drive it to a place where they’ll be captured by the Moon’s gravity around August 5. Subsequently, lander and rover will have to conduct other maneuvers to prepare for their landing, scheduled as soon as September 6.
If the Vikram lander and the Pragyaan rover manage to land at the Moon’s south pole, India will join the very small group of nations that succeeded in such a deed. Together with the orbiter, they will conduct a series of topographical and mineralogical studies with a focus on the study of the presence of water and the characteristics of the regolith, the surface layer of the lunar soil.