Exploring a Cosmic Odyssey: What are Chandrayaan Missions?
The Chandrayaan missions, made by India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), aim to unravel mysteries within the moon’s cratered landscapes, deepen our understanding of lunar geology, and expand human knowledge about the origins and evolution of our solar system.
Over the years, these Chandrayaan missions have meticulously mapped the lunar surface in high resolution and conducted investigations on the presence of water molecules, minerals, and elements crucial for further space exploration. The pioneering achievements of the Chandrayaan missions have paved the way for future human missions to our celestial neighbour.
This journey from the moon missions of Chandrayaan-1 to subsequent endeavours showcases the unwavering dedication, ingenuity, and collaborative spirit of scientists, engineers, and visionaries behind these landmark endeavours.
What are Space Missions?
Space missions represent organised expeditions conducted by various space agencies and organisations aiming to explore space, study celestial bodies, and conduct scientific research beyond Earth’s atmosphere. These missions are undertaken by esteemed government agencies like NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, ISRO, CNSA, and pioneering private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Encompassing a wide range of objectives, including Planetary Exploration, Lunar Exploration, Astronomical Observations, Human Spaceflight, Satellite Deployments, Space Probes, Interplanetary Missions, and Space Technology Demonstrations.
Executing these missions require precise planning and engineering. Their complexity often necessitates international collaboration contributing to the continuous expansion of humanity’s understanding of the universe and paving the way for future space exploration and human colonisation beyond Earth’s boundaries.
What is ISRO?
Source : ISRO to launch Chandrayaan-3
ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation, stands as India’s esteemed government space agency, established in 1969. It bears the responsibility for India’s space research and exploration activities with a focused approach towards space exploration, satellite launch, remote sensing, communication, space applications, and space science. Operating multiple launch vehicles, including the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), ISRO demonstrates its technological adroitness. Its endeavours also extend to Earth observation satellites instrumental in monitoring and managing natural resources, agriculture, land use, water resources, and disaster management. A robust fleet of communication satellites further facilitates telecommunication and broadcasting services across India and neighbouring regions.
ISRO’s notable achievements include:
- The India moon mission Chandrayaan-1, India’s pioneering lunar mission in 2008,
- The triumphant Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan), and
- NavIC, an independent regional navigation satellite system developed by ISRO to provide accurate position information services in India and the surrounding region.
ISRO’s drive to explore the moon, Mars, and beyond has earned it a distinguished status as a leading space agency on the global stage.
Reasons behind aiming to land near the South Pole of moon
ISRO, in collaboration with NASA and other space exploration organisations, has set its sight on the south pole of the moon for India’s moon missions, driven by numerous scientific and strategic reasons. Targeting the lunar south pole for exploration promises to advance our understanding of the moon, its resources, and its potential for future human activities.
These missions contribute to the broader goal of establishing a sustainable human presence beyond Earth and pave the way for more extensive exploration within our solar system.
- Water Ice Deposits
One of the key attractions at the lunar south pole is the substantial presence of water ice within the perpetually shaded craters. The abundance of water holds vast potential for future human expeditions. It can be utilised for drinking, producing oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel, and sustenance for prospective lunar habitat.
- Scientific Exploration
The lunar south pole has a diverse array of interesting geological features that scientists are eager to explore. Rich in ancient impact craters,this region holds the promise of unveiling insights into the moon’s early history and the broader evolution of our solar system.
- Long Periods of Sunlight
Some areas near the lunar south pole receive prolonged periods of sunlight, rendering them attractive locations for solar-powered missions. The availability of sunlight for extended periods facilitates stable power supply, which is crucial for continuous scientific observations and data transmission.
- Accessibility for Future Missions
The moon’s south pole may serve as a strategic location for future lunar bases or research stations due to its unique conditions and resources, making it an attractive target for long-term human presence.
- International Collaboration
International collaboration is also gaining interest among space agencies, leading to potential collaboration and data sharing for joint scientific endeavours.
India’s moon Missions like Chandrayaan-2 and NASA’s Artemis program have targeted the moon’s south pole for exploration, laying the groundwork for future lunar activities and mutual scientific endeavours through international cooperation.
Why would it take so long for Chandrayaan to reach the moon?
- The duration of a lander’s journey to the moon hinges on several factors, including the choice of launch vehicle, trajectory and mission design. The launch window is crucial for interplanetary missions, enabling a cost-effective and efficient trajectory.
- Spacecraft often follow energy-efficient transfer trajectories, leveraging gravitational assists from Earth and other celestial bodies to propel them towards the moon. Despite their power, given an average distance of 384,400 kilometres (238,855 miles) from Earth, getting to the moon requires considerable time.
- Orbital insertion is a crucial manoeuvre once the spacecraft reaches the moon’s vicinity, requiring precise timing and manoeuvring to slow down the spacecraft’s velocity and be captured by the moon’s gravity.
- Lunar descent is a complex and delicate operation, involving precise engine burns and guidance manoeuvres. Transit time may be prolonged due to specific objectives or constraints inherent in the mission design.
- Overall, the journey to the moon is carefully planned and optimised to ensure the success of the mission while managing fuel consumption and mission objectives. As technology and space exploration techniques evolve, future missions may find more efficient ways to reach the moon and explore other celestial bodies within our solar system.
Chandrayaan missions so far
Here is a brief history and timelines of India’s moon missions led by Chandrayaan so far, including Chandrayaan-1, Chandrayaan-2, and Chandrayaan-3.
Source : India’s first space exploration mission to moon: Chandrayaan-1
Chandrayaan 1 was India’s first moon mission and a landmark achievement in the country’s space exploration efforts. Chandrayaan 1’s launch date was October 22, 2008. The moon mission’s scientific objectives encompassed comprehensive mapping of the moon’s surface and extensive studies on its mineralogy and chemistry.
Deployed as a NASA-provided spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1 operated in lunar orbit from November 8, 2008, to November 14, 2008, to collect data and map the lunar surface.
Chandrayaan 1 involved the deployment of a small impact probe, which intentionally crashed into the moon’s surface to study the material ejected upon impact. However, communication with the spacecraft was unexpectedly lost on August 29, 2009, causing the mission to be declared over. Despite this, the data collected continued to contribute to lunar research.
Chandrayaan 1 showcased its space technology and lunar exploration capabilities. Despite its short operational life, it provided valuable data on the moon’s geology, mineralogy, and water presence. Chandrayaan 1’s most significant discovery centred on the discovery of water molecules on the moon’s surface, with M3 detecting hydroxyl and water molecules in lunar polar regions, indicating the presence of water ice in shadowed craters.
The moon mission laid the foundation for future lunar and space exploration efforts by ISRO and inspired future scientists and engineers in India.
The Chandrayaan 2 Mission
Source: Chandrayaan 2, India’s moon orbiter
On July 22, 2019, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched Chandrayaan 2, the second India moon mission building upon the success of Chandrayaan 1. This endeavour represented a more challenging and ambitious undertaking. Chandrayaan 2’s main goals were to further research the moon’s surface, in-depth exploration of its geology, and investigation of finding water and ice on the lunar south pole.
Key Highlights of Chandrayaan 2:
- Three Components:
Chandrayaan 2 consisted of three components: the Orbiter, the Vikram Lander, and the Pragyan Rover. The Orbiter remained in lunar orbit, while the Lander carried the Rover to the moon’s surface.
- Lunar South Pole :
Chandrayaan 2 was designed to land close to the lunar south pole. Due to the presence of permanently shadowed craters where water ice is thought to persist, this area is of tremendous scientific interest.
- Vikram Lander:
In order to deploy the Pragyan Rover and perform a soft landing on the moon’s surface, the Vikram Lander was created. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the pioneer of the Indian space programme, is honoured by the appellation “Lander.”
Was Chandrayaan 2 Successful?
Chandrayaan 2 aimed to explore the lunar south pole region. As the lander approached the lunar surface, communication was lost causing it to veer off its intended trajectory. Despite ISRO’s dedicated attempts, they were unable to reestablish contact with the lander.
The lander, Vikram, and the rover, Pragyan, could not carry out their intended surface operations on the moon. The loss of communication with the lander was a significant disappointment for the entire ISRO team and the nation, as the mission had been closely followed and highly anticipated. However, it’s important to remember that space exploration is complex and challenging, and failures are not uncommon in the history of space missions.
Despite the setback, Chandrayaan 2 mission was not entirely a failure. The orbiter component, which remained functional and in lunar orbit, continued to conduct valuable scientific observations and studies. It has provided crucial data about the moon, its surface, exosphere, and minerals, enhancing our understanding of our nearest celestial neighbour.
Chandrayaan 3’s Mission to Lunar Exploration
Source : Chandrayaan 3 as encapsulated in LVM-3
The Chandrayaan 3 spacecraft aims to successfully land on the moon. If ISRO succeeds in this mission, India will become the fourth country to successfully soft land on the moon, following the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. The mission aims to improve Earth’s understanding of the moon and contribute to our understanding of the universe.
How does LVM-3 work?
The GSLV Mk III, also known as LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark III), is a heavy-lift launch vehicle developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is designed to carry heavier payloads into geostationary transfer orbits (GTO) and interplanetary missions, including lunar missions like Chandrayaan-3.
The LVM-3 functions as a three-stage launch vehicle, with each stage having its specific role in propelling the rocket into space. Here’s an overview of how the LVM-3 works:
1. First Stage: S200 Solid Rocket Boosters
The LVM-3 launch sequence begins with the ignition of two solid rocket boosters, named S200, which are strapped to the sides of the core stage.
Each S200 booster contains 207 tonnes of solid propellant segmented into three parts. The simultaneous ignition of these boosters provides the initial thrust for liftoff.
The S200 boosters burn for about 127 seconds, generating an average thrust of approximately 3,578.2 kilonewtons and a peak thrust of around 5,150 kilonewtons each.
These powerful boosters are responsible for lifting the launch vehicle off the ground and pushing it through the dense lower atmosphere.
2. Second Stage: Liquid Fuel Core Stage (L110)
After the S200 boosters’ burnout, they separate, and the LVM3’s second stage takes over.
The second stage is called the Liquid Fuel Core Stage, designated L110, and it is powered by Vikas engines that burn a combination of liquid propellants—UH25 (a hypergolic fuel containing unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine) as fuel and N2O4 (Nitrogen Tetroxide) as the oxidizer.
The L110 stage provides sustained thrust to propel the vehicle further into space, continuing the ascent.
This stage operates until it reaches the desired altitude and velocity to inject the payload into a preliminary orbit.
3. Third Stage: Cryogenic Upper Stage (C25)
Once the L110 stage completes its job, it separates, and the third stage, known as the Cryogenic Upper Stage (C25), takes over.
The C25 stage uses liquid hydrogen (LH2) as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as the oxidizer for its cryogenic engines, which provides a higher specific impulse and efficiency compared to other propellant combinations.
The C25 stage performs the final orbital insertion and fine-tuning of the spacecraft’s trajectory to deliver the payload, such as a satellite or a lunar probe, into its intended orbit.
4. Payload Fairing and Separation
The payload, such as the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft or other satellites, is encapsulated within the payload fairing, which protects it during the atmospheric phase of the launch.
Once the rocket reaches the upper atmosphere, the payload fairing separates, exposing the spacecraft to space.
The combination of the powerful solid rocket boosters, the efficient liquid-fueled core stage, and the cryogenic upper stage provides the LVM-3 with the necessary thrust and capability to deliver heavy payloads, such as lunar missions, to their intended orbits or destinations in space.
The Chandrayaan India moon missions can improve their success and scientific contributions by investing in advanced technology, redundancy measures, enhanced communication and tracking, robust mission planning, international collaboration, and a focus on lunar science. These aspects will help ensure mission continuity and provide real-time updates during critical phases.
Improved technology and redundancy will minimise the risk of failures during critical phases, while enhanced communication and tracking infrastructure will ensure consistent contact with the spacecraft. Robust mission planning will identify potential risks and develop effective contingency strategies. International collaboration with other space agencies and partners will lead to more comprehensive research and cost-sharing opportunities.
Exploration of new areas, such as the lunar poles, will provide a diverse understanding of the moon’s surface and geological features. A future lunar sample return moon mission will bring back physical samples from the moon’s surface, providing valuable insights into its formation and evolution.
The moon missions can be a promising avenue for scientific research and long-term lunar exploration goals. Public outreach and education will help generate interest in space science and exploration, while sustainability and space ethics will ensure that future lunar missions adhere to sustainable practices and avoid disturbing the lunar environment. By focusing on these aspects, the Chandrayaan missions can continue to be at the forefront of lunar exploration, contributing significantly to the global scientific community’s understanding of the moon and its importance in space exploration.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the significance of Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter? Why did Chandrayaan 2 fail?
Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter was crucial for the mission as a scientific platform and communication hub. It conducts extensive observations of the moon, offers a longer mission life, and serves as a relay station for communication between Earth and future lunar missions. The orbiter’s continued functionality demonstrated ISRO’s capability for lunar exploration, contributed to global lunar research, and provided ISRO with valuable experience in managing and maintaining spacecraft in lunar orbit.
How are the Chandrayaan missions different from other lunar missions conducted by other countries?
Chandrayaan missions by India stand out from other lunar missions due to their unique objectives, capabilities, and resources. These missions focus on the moon’s surface, mineralogy, and exosphere, with varying landing and roving capabilities. Chandrayaan missions also involve international collaboration, technology and budget constraints, mission focus, long-term plans, public engagement, and space diplomacy. These missions serve as a means of strengthening international partnerships and cooperation in space exploration.