India’s ‘Bahubali’ rocket successfully put the moon spacecraft — Chandrayaan-3 — into orbit on Friday afternoon in a copy book style.
The LVM-3, the country’s heavy rocket, nicknamed ‘Bahubali’ as it carried the 3.8-tonne Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft like the hero in of the film of the same name lifts a heavy lingam, slung the moon-bound craft in its intended earth orbit.
From there it will be a long journey for Chandrayaan-3 as the distance between the earth and the moon is about 3.844 lakh km.
In his remarks after the launch, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman S. Somanath said: “Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft has started its journey towards the moon. The LVM3 rocket orbited the spacecraft precisely at the intended orbit.”
Union Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh said: “It is indeed a moment of glory to India. Thank you Team ISRO for making India proud. Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
At 2.35 p.m. the LVM3 rocket rose into the sky from the second launch pad here at Satish Dhawan Space Centre. The 43.5 metre tall rocket, weighing about 642 ton, furiously rushed upwards and 16-minutes into its flight, the rocket put Chandrayaan-3 into orbit.
The Indian space agency will raise the spacecraft’s orbit by a series of manoeuvres to put it on Lunar Transfer Trajectory from August 1 onwards, Somanath told media later. A couple of days after the spacecraft enters lunar orbit, the lander will make a soft landing on the moon near its South Pole.
The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft comprises a propulsion module (weighing 2,148 kg), a lander (1,723.89 kg) and a rover (26 kg), the ISRO said. Incidentally, the Chandrayaan-2 payload also weighed about 3.8 ton with the orbiter weighing 2,379 kg, the Vikram lander 1,444 kg, including the Pragyan rover 27 kg.
During the Chandrayaan-2 mission ISRO had named the lander as Vikram in memory of country’s space pioneer Vikram Sarabhai and rover Pragyan means wisdom in Sanskrit. But this time around, ISRO has not officially named the lander and the rover.
According to ISRO, the propulsion module has Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) payload to study the spectral and Polari metric measurements of Earth from the lunar orbit. The lander payloads are: Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) to measure the thermal conductivity and temperature; Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) for measuring the seismicity around the landing site; Langmuir Probe (LP) to estimate the plasma density and its variations.
A passive Laser Retroreflector Array from NASA is accommodated for lunar laser ranging studies.
On the other hand, the rover will carry: Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) for deriving the elemental composition in the vicinity of the landing site, ISRO said.
According to ISRO, the moon mission is divided into three phases – the earth centric phase (Pre-Launch, Launch and Ascent and Earth-bound Manoeuvre), the Lunar Transfer Phase (Transfer Trajectory), and the Moon Centric Phase (Lunar Orbit Insertion Phase, Moon-bound Manoeuvre Phase, Propulsion Module and Lunar Module Separation, De-boost Phase, Pre-landing Phase, Landing Phase, Normal Phase for Lander and Rover, Moon Centric Normal Orbit Phase -100 km circular orbit- for Propulsion Module).
With the successful launch, the ‘Bahubali’ rocket has notched up an impeccable record of seven consecutive successful missions. This is the fourth operational flight of LVM3. The LVM3, with a capacity to carry four ton, is a three stage/engine rocket with two strap-on motors powered by solid fuel. The second stage is a core liquid fuel booster and the third is the cryogenic engine.
The lander is expected to reach the moon’s vicinity on August 17. After parting of ways with the spacecraft, the lander is expected to soft land on August 23 at about 5.47 p.m. The lander will descend to the moon from a height of about 100 km from the moon’s surface. The soft landing is a tricky issue as it involves a series of complex manoeuvres consisting of rough and fine braking. Imaging of the landing site region prior to landing will be done for finding safe and hazard-free zones.
Subsequent to the soft landing, the six-wheeled rover will roll out and carry out experiments on the lunar surface for a period of one lunar day which is equal to 14 Earth days. The life of the payloads carried by the propulsion module post ejection of the lander is between three and six months. On the other hand, the mission life of the lander and the rover is 1 Lunar day or 14 earth days, ISRO said.
The success of Chandrayaan-3 mission will make India the fourth country in the world to land and ride on the Moon surface after the US, Russia, and China.
India launched its first Moon mission Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008 using its light rocket Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the second mission on July 22, 2019 with the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mk III now renamed as LVM3.
The Friday moon mission is a follow up of the failed Chandrayaan-2 mission in 2019 when the lander named Vikram crashed on to the moon surface.
As regards the changes made in the lander this time as compared to the one that crash landed on the moon during the Chandrayaan-2 mission, a senior ISRO official told IANS that the lander has four motors instead of five. The space agency has also carried out some changes in the software.