Chandrayaan: From Distant Dream to Exploring the Unexplored

By Mayank Jain (L&T MHPS)

Former President and one of the respected and brilliant scientists, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam once said –

Dream is not that which you see while sleeping, it is something that does not let you sleep”.

This is what scientists and engineers of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) proved to the world when they launched the first indigenous research mission to moon. Yes, you guessed it right, it’s the mission Chandrayaan.

Now, you must be wondering why the title states that it was a distant dream. There is a reason to it.

The idea of an Indian scientific mission to the Moon was first mooted in 1999, 20 years ago, during a meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences. The Astronautical Society of India (AeSI) carried forward the idea in 2000. The project Chandrayaan was first announced by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on course in his Independence Day speech on 15 August 2003. The mission was a major boost to India’s space program. Soon after, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) set up the National Lunar Mission Task Force which concluded that ISRO has the technical expertise to carry out an Indian mission to the Moon. In April 2003 over 100 eminent Indian scientists in the fields of planetary and space sciences, Earth Sciences, physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics and engineering and communication sciences discussed and approved the Task Force recommendation to launch an Indian probe to the Moon. Six months later, in November, the Indian government gave the nod for the mission.

So, it took India nearly a decade to launch the first mission to moon in October 2008, CHANDRAYAAN-1. It was the 10-year hard work and research behind the success of India to bring the dream into reality and make mark in the eyes of countries like US, Russia, China and Europe, that we are not that behind.

Major goals of the Chandrayaan-1 were as follows –

  • High-resolution Remote Sensing of moon in visible, near infrared (NIR), low energy X-rays and high-energy X-ray regions
  • chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface for distribution of mineral and chemical elements
  • Searching for surface or sub-surface lunar water-ice, especially at the lunar poles
  • Providing new insights in understanding the Moon’s origin and evolution

Chandrayaan-1 was sent to the Moon in a series of orbit-increasing maneuvers (5 numbers) around the Earth over a period of 21 days as opposed to launching the craft on a direct trajectory to the Moon. After the five orbits, Chandrayaan was finally inserted into the lunar orbit, thereby becoming the nation to put a lunar vehicle in lunar orbit.

The mission was expected to operate for two years. However, in August 2009 communication with the spacecraft was suddenly lost. The craft had been expected to remain in orbit for approximately another 1000 days and to crash into the lunar surface in late 2012, although in 2016 it was found to still be in orbit. ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair said that due to very high radiation, power-supply units controlling both the computer systems on board failed, snapping the communication connectivity.  A review by scientists termed the mission successful, as it had completed 95% of its primary objectives.

However, after completing this mission, the ISRO scientists never thought that they have achieved enough and there is no need to take it further. The didn’t hold their curiosities and continued researching on further developments in the technology to achieve new heights and take ISRO and India to another level.

It took them another decade to design and develop the technology required to launch the new vehicle, the Chandrayaan-2, on July 22, 2019. This project is taking India to new heights as it is boldly going where no country has ever gone before — the Moon’s south polar region. Through this effort, the aim is to improve our understanding of the Moon — discoveries that will benefit India and humanity as a whole. These insights and experiences aim at a paradigm shift in how lunar expeditions are approached for years to come — propelling further voyages into the farthest frontiers.

The lunar South Pole is especially interesting because of the lunar surface area here that remains in shadow is much larger than that at the North Pole . There is a possibility of the presence of water in permanently shadowed areas around it. In addition, South Pole region has craters that are cold traps and contain a fossil record of the early Solar System.

The most important achievement of Chandrayaan-2 is that it will attempt to soft land the lander -Vikram and rover- Pragyan and has become the fourth country in the world to do so after US, Russia and China.

The spacecraft consists of four parts –

Launcher – The GSLV Mk-III will carry Chandrayaan 2 to its designated orbit. This three-stage vehicle is India’s most powerful launcher to date, and is capable of launching 4-ton class of satellites to the Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).

Orbiter – at the time of launch, the Chandrayaan 2 Orbiter will be capable of communicating with Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) at Byalalu as well as the Vikram Lander. The mission life of the Orbiter is one year and it will be placed in a 100X100 km lunar polar orbit.

Lander – named Vikram after Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, the Father of the Indian Space Programme. It is designed to function for one lunar day, which is equivalent to about 14 Earth days. Vikram has the capability to communicate with IDSN at Byalalu near Bangalore, as well as with the Orbiter and Rover. The Lander is designed to execute a soft landing on the lunar surface.

Rover – a 6-wheeled robotic vehicle named Pragyaan, which translates to ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit. It can travel up to 500 m (½-a-km) and leverages solar energy for its functioning. It can only communicate with the Lander.

If everything goes well, as it has happened so far, the lander will hit the surface of the moon on September 7, 2019 and will start the experiments thereon, for 1 lunar day (14 earth days). The orbital experiment will be operational for a duration of 1 year.

Representation of Chandrayaan-2 launch and insertion in Lunar Orbit

It is a tribute to the nation from ISRO or we can say a gift to the nation when it is nearing to its 73rd Independence Day and we all as Indians are feeling more than proud. Once counted as a third world country by the world, we are proving it the world that we are not the country of just snake charmers and farmers anymore. We are telling to the developed countries of the world that we are as much competent as they are and we have the capability to reach new heights. 

Beautiful picture of earth from Chandrayaan-2

We are still sticking to the fact that India has sent a man to space but we are yet behind other countries in sending a man to land on the moon. Let’s hope that in the coming future , India will continue to amaze the world by sending a man to step on the surface of the moon and create history.


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