India Launches First Mars Mission

India's mission to become the fourth country to land on the moon is successful so far. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has managed to manoeuvre the spacecraft Chandrayaan-2 into the lunar orbit. Chandrayaan-2 is supposed to land on the moon on September 7.

ISRO's Chandrayaan-2 will be taking much longer than NASA's Apollo 11 mission, which landed humans on the moon. The reason behind the slow approach of Chandrayaan-2 is fuel economy. The cost of the project is Rs. 9.78 bn (£113m, €123m, $136m). The cost of the Apollo 11 mission was $25.4bn (£21bn, €22.9bn, Rs 1.8tn).

ISRO has chosen to take a circuitous route which utilises the gravitational force of both the Earth and the moon. Back in 2008, ISRO put the Chandrayaan-1 satellite into the lunar orbit. The mission of Chandrayaan-2 is to successfully land the Vikram lander at the south pole of the moon.

GSLV Mk III-D1
The GSLV Mk III-D1 ISRO

The launch of Chandrayaan-2 was rescheduled from July 15 to July 22 due to a technical snag which was detected in the nick of time. On July 22, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III launched from ISRO's launch base in Sriharikota, India.

After the launch, the spacecraft orbited the Earth using its gravitational force to slingshot the spacecraft into the moon's orbit. ISRO updated details of the Lower Orbit Insertion manoeuvre on their website. The LOI manoeuvre took 1738 seconds and the orbit reached by spacecraft is 114 km x 18072 km. Four more similar manoeuvres will be performed till the craft is in the 100 km X 30 km orbit above the lunar south pole.

The first LOI manoeuvre has been the most critical since it required extreme precision. Had the spacecraft velocity been too high it would get flung into deep space. Had the velocity been too slow, the moon's gravity would have pulled the craft onto its surface pre-maturely causing a crash.

On September 7, the Vikram lander, named after the founder of ISRO, will attempt to land on the lunar surface. After a successful landing, the lander will release Pragyan Rover (Pragyan means 'wisdom' in Sanskrit). The rover will have a 14-day journey over the moon's surface. Apart from the lander and the rover, the orbiter will be actively sending images of the moon's surface for a year.

If ISRO is able to complete the mission, India will join the ranks of the US, USSR (now Russia), and China as the fourth nation to land on the moon.