Pragyan, the rover of Chandrayaan-3 that rolled out from the lander Vikram, will explore craters and rocks on the lunar surface
India is on the moon with the successful soft landing of Vikram. The Chandrayaan-3 took its flight with an orbiter, lander, and a rover at 09:05 GMT on the 14th of July towards the south pole of Earth’s natural satellite. After 40 days of space travel, it reached its destination and made India the new member of the elite club of nations with their flags on the lunar surface.
Vikram, the lander, is named after the founder of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the national awardee Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, also revered as the father of the Indian Space Programme.
The mission cost 6.1 billion INR ($75 million). The budget received appreciation from another space enthusiast, Elon Musk, who posted on X that it’s crazy when you realise that the mission’s budget ($75m) is less than the budget of the film Interstellar ($165m). The lander weighs around 1.5 tonnes and carries Pragyaan, a 26kg six-wheeled rover. Pragyaan is the Sanskrit word for wisdom.
India made history by becoming the first nation to land an exploration project near the polar region of the moon. Pragyan, the rover of Chandrayaan-3 that rolled out from the lander Vikram, will explore craters and rocks on the lunar surface. For the next two weeks, it will conduct some experiments on the moon’s surface.
This mission comes 15 years after the Moon mission back in 2008, which unravelled the availability of water in the form of molecules on the rough lunar surface and confirmed that the moon has an atmosphere during daytime.
Previously, India received partial success with Chandrayaan-2, the predecessor of Chandrayaan-3, which was launched on the 22nd of July 2019. It missed a soft landing due to a last-minute software glitch in the braking system, which also led to losing communication with the mission control station on Earth. ISRO spent four years minimising the room for errors by contemplating the possibility of failure scenarios.
ISRO used stronger legs that could bear landing at greater velocities. The velocity tolerance was increased from 2m/second to 3m/second. Vikram is loaded with additional fuel capacity to hedge any kind of disruptions. It also has a new laser Doppler velocity metre to monitor the lunar terrain before landing. The ISRO team has made major enhancements to the software to endure failures like engine or thrust disruptions, sensor failures, etc.
At the last minute, scientists decided to remove the central or the fifth engine because the mass of the lander was enhanced, which reduced the requirement of an extra engine. Vikram is equipped with an extended solar panel base to generate more electricity. This will enable it to function even if it lands with a different orientation and faces the opposite direction of the sun.
Russia’s first Moon mission in 45 years, Luna-25, was also launched on the 10th of August, 2023, and was expected to land 1-2 days before Chandrayaan-3. Unfortunately, it got out of control and crashed on the surface of the moon due to a technical glitch. If it succeeded, then Chandrayaan-3 would have been pushed to the second position for landing near the south pole.
Both Chandrayaan-3 and Luna-25 were launched with the same goal: to find water ice that could cater to human civilisation on the moon in the future. Scientists state that the water ice can also fuel spacecraft for Mars and other celestial bodies in outer space.
Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, the ISRO chief, said they are more interested in the unexplored south pole of the moon because the equatorial region is safe for landing, has been thoroughly researched, and huge amounts of data are available for that region. He added that to make any groundbreaking scientific discovery, they would have to explore new regions like the South Pole by taking higher risks of landing.
Somanath mentioned that the orbiter from Chandrayaan-2 has provided great help by sending high-resolution images of the region they intend to land. They have collected and studied data to ascertain the number of boulders and craters over there and have made necessary adjustments accordingly.
The success of this mission has opened a gateway of opportunities. It has put India, besides the erstwhile Soviet Union, United States, and China, in terms of futuristic space power. The Indian government is promoting private sector involvement in the space industry. It intends to develop an indigenous ecosystem of public and private enterprises that would provide launching facilities to global space traffic in the coming decades.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission is a matter of great pride for India’s space voyage. Pragyaan, the rover, is responsible for imprinting the Ashoka Chakra, the Indian emblem, and ISRO’s logo on the moon’s surface with its diligently crafted tires. This will mark India’s technological prowess in space exploration and scientific advancement. The imprint will never erode as the moon’s atmosphere has no air.