Soft-landing of ‘Vikram’: Can India win the race to the lunar south pole?

Anil Urs/Agencies Bengaluru | Updated on September 07, 2019 Published on September 07, 2019

ISRO Chairman K Sivan   -  PTI

Modi shares the nation’s excitement on the soft-landing of Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram

By the time this newspaper is in the hands of the readers on Saturday morning, it will be clear whether India kept its rendezvous with the lunar south pole or not.

If it has, it would be a globe-beating feat, and the country would be only the fourth country — after the US, Russia (Soviet Union) and China — to land something gently on the moon’s surface (as opposed to destructively throwing something there, which has been done before). India would also be the first to put a lander near the extremely cold environs of the lunar south pole. Earlier this year, an Israeli Beresheet lander failed to keep its tryst with the lunar south pole; it crashed to its death on the moon’s surface.

Among those who want to go to the south pole of the moon is, notably, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. His space company, Blue Origin, has its sights trained on that spot on the moon, but its rocket is a couple of years away from flight readiness.

‘On schedule’

However, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan2 mission is working per plan, top scientists connected with the mission said here on Friday.

The project, which cost ISRO ₹1,000 crore, is the world’s least cost moon landing operation and could become a template for future lunar missions.

Vikram (named after space programme pioneer Vikram Sarabhai), the lander with the rover (named Pragyan) in its belly, is to land on the moon’s south polar surface after between 1.30 am and 2.30 am on September 7. Vikram will land on the moon’s surface in a powered descent mode, or soft landing.

The 27-kg robotic vehicle Pragyan, which translates to ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit, can travel up to 500 metres from the landing spot on the moon and uses solar energy to function.

The health of the spacecraft is being continuously monitored from the Mission Operations Complex at the ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) here with support from Indian Deep Space Network antennas at Bylalu, near Bengaluru.

Moon is the perfect test-bed for proving technologies required for future space exploration, as well as in-situation resource utilisation, space scientists noted. “In future, India will be a key contributor in exploring and uncovering the secrets of the universe — an aspiration shared by the global community,” said K Sivan, ISRO Chairman.

Hours before the “historic” event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a series of tweets, said: “The moment 130 crore Indians were enthusiastically waiting for is here! In a few hours from now, the final descent of Chandrayaan-2 will take place on the Lunar South Pole. India, and the rest of the world will yet again see the exemplary prowess of our space scientists.”

Modi, dozens of students from across the country selected by ISRO though an online quiz, a large media contingent and others are slated to watch the final descent of the lander as it happens from ISTRAC.

“I have been regularly and enthusiastically tracking all updates relating to Chandrayaan 2 since it was launched on 22nd July 2019. This Mission manifests the best of Indian talent and spirit of tenacity. Its success will benefit crores of Indians,” tweeted Modi.

Women power

For the first time in the history of ISRO, two women are heading the deep space mission. “For the Chandrayaan2 mission two women — Ritu Kridhal and M Vanitha — are leading as project and mission director, respectively,” Sivan had said.

“The lander (Vikaram) and the rover (Pragyan) will have the Tricolour painted on them. The Ashoka Chakra will be imprinted on the rover’s wheels on one side and ISRO’s logo on the other,” he further said.

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Published on September 07, 2019
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