Chandrayaan-3’s Success Catapults India Into the Space Race

A mission fueled by retribution and ambitions of space dominion.
Published On August 24, 2023
The Chandrayaan-3 during its initial phases of construction.

The Chandrayaan-3 in its early stages of development. Photo via ISRO

Completing its soft landing on the moon, India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission follows up on their previous failed attempt at a lunar landing nearly 4 years back. This success made India the first country to land on the lunar south pole successfully.

Entering the lunar orbit on Aug. 5, the lander continued orbiting close to the surface as it searched for a landing spot. A focus of national pride, the successful landing puts the nation in an all-exclusive club of successful lunar landings, including the U.S., Russia (Soviet Union), and China.

  • Russia’s space agency Roscomos, previously in the race with Chandrayaan’3, lost contact with the Luna-25 on Saturday after the spacecraft reported an “abnormal situation,” notes AP.
  • “This mission wanted to show Russia ‘is a state capable of delivering payload to the moon’ and ‘ensure Russia’s guaranteed access to the moon’s surface.”

While anticipation for a successful moon landing grew after the crash of Russia’s Luna-25 mission, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) took a more measured approach this time around. “Instead of a success-based design, ISRO has this time opted for a failure-based design,” said ISRO’s chairman S. Somanath during a press briefing.

  • With an exceptionally low $75 million budget for such a mission, the Chandrayaan-3 is equipped with more fuel and sturdier legs than its predecessor.
  • The mission includes the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover. The rover itself has two payloads: a laser-induced breakdown spectroscope (LIBS) and an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) which studies the lunar surface composition.
  • The lander is equipped with a seismometer to measure moonquakes as well as a laser retroreflector array (LRA). The latter helps study the distance and gravitational interactions between the Earth-Moon system.

The global frenzy to reach the lunar south pole is partly owed to the Chandrayaan-1. The 2008 mission released a Moon Impact Probe that confirmed the presence of water ice persisting in the Moon’s shadowed craters.

  • Despite getting colder than -230°C (-300°F), the Moon’s south pole has become one of the hottest destinations in space — all to decipher the mystery of water ice that has been frozen deep underneath its surface.
  • These permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) hide frozen water that could be used for air, water, and even rocket propellant to drive further exploration in space.

Next in line: NASA has its next Moon mission scheduled for 2024, followed by the Artemis III mission — the first manned mission to the lunar south pole.

  • While suffering a setback, Russia still has two more Moon missions planned — the Luna 26 orbiter and the Luna 27 lander.
  • Russia and China have also announced plans to set up a joint base on the Moon by 2035.
  • India intends to launch its next moon mission by the end of the decade — partnering with Japan to have the Lunar Polar Exploration (LUPEX) rover directly study water ice deposits at the lunar south pole.

What’s next: The rover will remain functional for at least two weeks on its quest for ice as it studies the lunar soil composition.