Thursday, September 10, 2015

India Speeds up Progress on Its Moon Mission

Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft undergoing pre-launch tests in October 2008. Credit: ISRO

India intensifies works on its second lunar mission called Chandrayaan-2, an advanced version of the previous successful Chandrayaan spacecraft. The mission will include an orbiter and a lander-rover module. Chandrayaan-2 is planned to be launched by the end of 2017 or at the beginning of 2018, using the country’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).

The scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has recently speeded up activities on the design of the mission. ISRO’s Space Applications Centre (SAC) has completed the configuration study for the Chandrayaan-2 and the integration works have commenced.

The configuration changes were applied to the orbiter for accommodating the indigenous lander. The orbiter’s high resolution camera was also configured to accurately provide high quality images of the landing site area before the separation of lander from orbiter. Next, the scientists have identified the landing strategies for soft landing on the lunar surface and new technologies required for the lander. The engineering model of the six wheeled rover has been realized and tested on the lunar terrain test facility. SAC is also developing a HD video camera for both the lander and the rover.

The mission will carry five scientific instruments on the orbiter. Three of them are new, while two others are improved versions of those flown on Chandrayaan-1. The payloads and sensors onboard the orbiter, lander and rover are at various stages of development.

“The science goals of the mission are to further improve the understanding of origin and evolution of the moon using instruments onboard orbiter and in-situ analysis of lunar samples using the lander and the rover,” an ISRO official told Deccan Herald.

Initially, the mission was to be a joint India-Russia project, but Russia withdrew after the failure of its Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars’ moon Phobos. The spacecraft was to be launched in 2014, with an orbiter made by ISRO and a lander made by the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos. Following a cost analysis, the Russia gave up on their rover in May 2010 and India decided to develop the lunar mission independently.

The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, lander and rover would be launched as a composite stack into the Earth Parking Orbit (EPO). The orbiter, weighing 1.4 tons, would then boost the stack towards the moon to achieve Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI). The lander would separate from the orbiter in lunar orbit.

During the landing, the lander's main engine will bring the spacecraft to hover at approximately 1.2 miles above the lunar surface and then shut down. The lander will soft land at a specified site in the polar region of the moon and deploy the rover. The scientific payloads onboard the orbiter, lander and rover are expected to perform mineralogical and elemental studies of the lunar surface. The data will be relayed to Earth through the orbiter.

The rover's mass will be about 65–210 lbs. and will operate on solar power. It is planned to be operational for at least 14 days.

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