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India reaches for the Moon; Chandrayaan-2 in Earth orbit

SRIHARIKOTA(AP): India on Monday successfully launched its second moon mission Chandrayaan-2 from its most powerful rocket with a plan to land the rover on September 7 in the unexplored lunar south pole, exactly a week after the liftoff was aborted due to a technical snag.
Carrying a “billion dreams” in a giant leap for the country’s ambitious low-cost space programme, the most complex and prestigious mission ever undertaken by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), if successful, will also make India the fourth country after Russia, the US and China to pull off a soft landing on the moon.
“We bounced back with flying colours after the earlier technical snag. Success is coming after a call-off,” said a beaming and visibly relieved ISRO Chairman K Sivan (See P-5) at the mission control room of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, about 100 km from Chennai, as scientists broke into cheers, shook hands and exchanged greetings.
The towering geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle GSLV-MkIII-M1, dubbed as ‘Baahubali’, lifted off from the second launch pad at the spaceport into cloudy skies at 2.43 pm and successfully placed the 3,850-kg Chandrayaan-2 into the earth orbit about 16 minutes later. The Rs 978-crore unmanned mission also brought woman power to the fore as it was helmed by two woman scientists of the ISRO – Ritu Karidhal and M Vanitha, the Mission and Project directors respectively.
The ISRO is aiming for a soft landing of the lander in the South Pole region of the moon where no country has gone so far. Immediately after Chandrayaan-2’s separation from the rocket, the solar array of the spacecraft automatically got deployed and the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network at Bengaluru successfully took control of the spacecraft, the ISRO said.
According to the ISRO statement, Chandrayaan-2, a three-module spacecraft comprising orbiter, lander and rover, will be subjected to a series of orbit manoeuvres using its onboard propulsion system to take it to the vicinity of Moon over the next few weeks with the rover soft-landing planned on September 7.
According to the ISRO, the lunar South Pole is an interesting surface area which remains in shadow than North Pole. There is a possibility of the presence of water in permanently shadowed areas around it, the agency said, adding craters in the South Pole region have cold traps and contain fossil record of the early solar system.
Chandrayaan-2 comes 11 years after ISRO’s successful first lunar mission Chandrayaan-1 which was operational for 312 days till August 29, 2009. The 43.43-metre tall three-stage rocket GSLV-MkIII-M1 dubbed as Baahubali for its ability to carry heavy payloads, successfully placed the Chandrayaan-2 in the Earth orbit, ISRO said.
Subsequent to the rescheduling of the launch, the space agency has tweaked the orbital phases, increasing Earth-bound phase to 23 days as against 17 days planned originally. At the end of the Earth-bound phase, the orbit of the spacecraft will be finally raised to over 1.05 lakh km before nudging it into the Lunar Transfer Trajectory taking it to the proximity of Moon in the next two days. Then gradually over the next few days it will be brought to 100 X 100 km circular orbit when the lander ‘Vikram’ carrying rover ‘Pragyan’ will separate and after another few days of orbiting it will make a soft landing at a chosen place on the Lunar surface.
The mission, which carries a total of 13 payloads, including three from the Europe, two from the US and one Bulgaria, seeks to improve understanding of the moon which could lead to discoveries that will benefit India and humanity as a whole. The lander Vikram, named after father of Indian space research programme Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, carrying the rover Pragyan, will be landed in a high plain between two craters at a latitude of about 70 degrees South of the moon. Then the 27-kg Pragyan meaning wisdom in Sanskrit and a six-wheeled robotic vehicle, will set out on its job of collecting information on lunar surface. A safe site free of hazards for landing would be decided based on pictures sent back by the camera onboard the lander and after touchdown the rover will carry out experiments for 14 Earth days, equalling one Lunar Day. (PTI)

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