The potential success of India’s unmanned Moon mission Chandrayaan-2 to the unexplored lunar south pole will help its scientists in setting up a platform for deep space missions in future.
It will also help them in exploring the possible presence of water ice in the cold, polar craters which never see moonlight and are called permanently shadowed regions.
The present mission’s predecessor Chandrayaan-1 launched in 2008 had found the presence of water molecules on the lunar surface.
If successful, Chandrayaan-2 will open up the possibility for mining large quantities of Helium-3 which may provide safer, cleaner and more efficient nuclear energy in a fusion reactor.
Since the Moon’s magnetic field is relatively weak compared to that of the Earth, it is bombarded with Helium-3 emitted by the Sun within its solar winds.
Apart from pushing the frontiers of human knowledge on Moon, Chandrayaan-2 will put to test the skills of Indian scientists in soft-landing the lander on the Moon’s surface.
During Chandrayaan-1 mission, the Moon Impact Probe detached from the orbiter had a hard landing.
This time, the rocket engines are expected to bring the rate of the lander’s descent to near zero before the touchdown.
Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), K Sivan, calls this the “terrifying moment” when one’s heart almost stops.
The landing spot is crucial. Indian scientists will try to soft-land the lander in a high plain between two craters, Manzinus and Simpelius, about 350km north of the south pole. If that attempt fails, they have another option.
Earlier missions had landed in the equatorial region of the Moon.
After the lander lands and the lunar dust kicked up settles, the six-wheeled robotic rover Pragyaan will roll out and perform chemical analysis for 14 days (one lunar day) and relay data to Earth through the orbiter and lander.
As the rover moonwalks at the speed of one centimetre per minute, India’s national emblem and ISRO’s logo imprinted on its rear wheels will leave a permanent mark on the Moon’s surface for future astronauts.
The orbiter will circle the Moon for one year mapping the lunar minerals, taking high resolution photos, searching for water using an infra-red imager and radars and analysing the thin lunar atmosphere.
According to ISRO, the fuel-efficient orbiter may circle the Moon more than a year.
Former Nasa astronaut Jerry Linenger told PTI that Chandrayaan-2’s mission to an unexplored region will advance human knowledge and help scientists planning moon missions with valuable data on its south pole.
The entire world has its eyes glued on the mission and people involved should be proud, he added.