Why Chandrayaan 2 matters to India

Nandkumar M Kamat

The final phase of India’s next mission to Moon - Chandrayaan 2 has begun. It would be world’s cheapest Moon Mission - costing only `600 crores. When it would be lifted off, fully indigenous Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft would weigh 2,650 kilograms which would include an orbiter weighing 1,400 kilograms and lander weighing about 1,250 kilograms.

ISRO laboratories in Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram and Ahmedabad are working on development of the subsystems of the orbiter and the rover. As the countdown for the mission has begun about 150 days in advance this is the right time for every institution in India teaching science, engineering and technology to plan and generate interest in this mission by involving the students and faculty.

Unfortunately, most of institutions wake up only after the spacecraft is launched and the TV channels begin to discuss it. Chandrayaan 2 matters a lot to India because the first mission Chandrayaan 1 launched in 2008 was a partial success. But India made its presence felt by dropping a 35 kilogram payload called Moon Impactor probe carrying the Indian flag on lunar surface and thus became qualified as a moon-faring nation - a status helpful in claiming some pioneer rights in the future as space policy and laws evolve.

The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) module demonstrated the technology required for landing the probe at a desired location on the moon. It had a honeycomb structure and carried a video camera and a mass spectrometer for examination of the lunar atmosphere. The Chandrayaan 2 mission is important for India to plan other ambitious missions like robotic exploration of moon, mineralogical mapping, hunting for water and ice, sending an Indian astronaut to the moon, establishing a lunar colony and finally aiming to exploit the Helium 3 deposits to produce clean and abundant energy. The mission would also test some new technologies like a remote controlled ‘swadeshi’ rover.

If everything works out well then Chandrayaan 2 will be launched in March 2018 using three-stage rockets, ISRO’s (Indian Space Research Organization) Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark II, from Sriharikota. It would be an advanced version of the previous Chandrayaan 1 mission. It would include an Orbiter, Lander and Rover configuration. According to the information obtained from ISRO – the spacecraft is planned to be launched as a composite stack into the Earth Parking Orbit (EPO) of 170 X 18,500 kilometres by GSLV-Mk II. The Orbiter carries the combined stack up to moon till the Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI). The combined stack is then inserted into a lunar orbit of 100 kilometres x 100 kilometres. The Lander is separated from the Orbiter in this orbit. The Orbiter with scientific payloads will orbit around the moon. The Lander will soft land on the moon at a specified site and deploy the Rover. The scientific payloads onboard the Orbiter, Lander and Rover are expected to perform mineralogical and elemental studies of the lunar surface. After the Russians backed out ISRO developed the Lunar Lander making Chandrayaan 2 an Indian mission. The Chandrayaan 2 orbiter would carry five payloads-Large Area Soft X-ray Spectrometer (CLASS) from ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), Bangalore and Solar X-ray Monitor (XSM) from Physical Research Laboratory PRL), Ahmedabad for mapping the major elements present on the lunar surface; L and S band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) from Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad for probing the first few tens of metres of the lunar surface for the presence of different constituents including water ice.

SAR is expected to provide further evidence confirming the presence of water ice below the shadowed regions of the moon; Imaging IR Spectrometer (IIRS) from SAC, Ahmedabad for the mapping of lunar surface over a wide wavelength range for the study of minerals, water molecules and hydroxyl present; Neutral Mass Spectrometer (ChACE-2) from Space Physics Laboratory (SPL), Thiruvananthapuram to carry out a detailed study of the lunar exosphere; Terrain Mapping Camera-2 (TMC-2) from SAC, Ahmedabad for preparing a three-dimensional map essential for studying the lunar mineralogy and geology. India would create history by landing a rover on the moon. It would carry two scientific payloads- Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) from Laboratory for Electro Optic Systems (LEOS), Bangalore and Alpha Particle Induced X -ray Spectroscope (APIXS) from PRL, Ahmedabad. These instruments would carry out elemental analysis of the lunar surface near the landing site. The aim of the mission is to study the floating lunar dust, a nuisance for future human colonisation, created by solar wind and ultraviolet radiation. These disturbing dust particles are suspended inside the plasma sheath - a layer of charged ions. Indian scientists in close contact with NASA believe that more details on property of the lunar dust are required. ISRO has created artificial lunar terrain in its testing laboratory in Bengaluru where the six wheeled rover is being tested under simulated lunar conditions. The most important aspect of the mission would be testing ISRO’s own navigational system which would make India independent in launching future lunar missions. Considering the spinoffs likely from the scientific payloads and expectations from the robotic rover, March 2018 would usher in a new age of lunar research in India and surely it would inspire, motivate and galvanise, smart, intelligent and talented students towards careers in space research. The success of Chandrayaan 2 would also establish India firmly as a space superpower in 2018.