World / Science & Health

India to take another shot at moon landing after crash last year

Bloomberg, Reuters

India will attempt a second moon landing, after a previous try last year failed just minutes before a scheduled touchdown on the lunar surface, in a bid to restore its credentials as an ambitious space power.

The South Asian nation’s Chandrayaan-3 mission to the moon, which likely will be conducted this year, will consist of a lander and a rover and will use inputs from an orbiter from the previous mission, said Kailasavadivoo Sivan, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, in Bangalore on Wednesday.

The ISRO has also made progress on India’s first manned space mission by identifying four astronauts, he added.

India and China are both trying to establish a presence in space exploration. While China was the first country to land a rover on the far side of the moon, India had aimed to become the first to the southern pole, the same spot NASA is targeting in 2024 with its Artemis mission.

The $1.4 billion Gaganyaan mission — which plans to launch a module with astronauts by 2022, taking them on a seven-day voyage around the Earth — will make India only the fourth nation to send humans to space.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sharpened India’s focus on space since coming to power in 2014, with a pipeline of ambitious programs, including planned missions to study the sun and Venus, before eventually establishing its own space station.

Apart from space-faring nations, billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson are competing in an unofficial space race, from launching satellites to sending astronauts and tourists into space.

The previous mission, which intended to analyze virgin territory on the moon, placed an orbiter around Earth’s closest neighbor before the lander lost contact with scientists.

NASA, with the help of an Indian mechanical engineer, Shanmuga Subramanian, located the crashed spacecraft last month.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission in September had aimed to land on the south pole of the moon, where no other lunar mission had gone before. The region is believed to contain water because craters in the region are largely unaffected by the high temperatures of the sun.

The space organization had hoped to confirm the presence of water in the form of ice, first detected on its mission in 2008.

Beijing’s Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon last year, while Israel made an unsuccessful attempt to land its Beresheet spacecraft on the moon in April 2019.

“Even though we couldn’t successfully soft land, the orbiter is still functioning and it is going to function for another seven years,” Sivan said. “Chandrayaan-3’s configuration will be almost similar to Chandrayaan-2.”

Other plans for the year include a maiden flight of a new, small-satellite launch vehicle this year, Sivan said, a move that will strengthen India’s position as the go-to destination for low-cost launches with a capacity to place more than 100 satellites in orbit on a single mission.

Sivan also announced that the space organization had begun the land acquisition process for a second spaceport in the southern port city of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu state.

India has developed a reputation for pioneering affordable satellite launches and space missions. Its unmanned Mars mission in 2014 cost just $74 million — less than the budget of the Hollywood space blockbuster “Gravity.”

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