New Delhi, 22 July 2019 (dpa/MIA) – India launched its first lunar landing mission on Monday, with an unmanned spacecraft blasting off on a rocket from a spaceport off the country’s south-east coast.
The 44-metre-tall Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III rocket carrying the Chandrayaan-2 probe lifted off at 2:43 pm (0913 GMT) from the Sriharikota spaceport.
Chandrayaan-2 – which means “Moon vehicle” in Sanskrit and comprises an orbiter, lander and rover – is expected to touch down on the unexplored lunar south pole on September 7, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
“I am extremely happy to announce that the GSLV Mark III successfully injected the Chandrayaan-2 in the defined orbit over earth,” ISRO chairman K Sivan said at the space centre, amid scenes of jubilation among scientists at the spaceport.
Over the next few weeks, a total of 15 manoeuvres will be carried out to raise the spacecraft’s orbit which will take it into the lunar orbit, a journey of 384,000 kilometres.
The 15-minute final descent on the Moon “will be the most terrifying moments as India has never undertaken such a complex mission” of landing a probe on a cosmic body, Sivan said.
If India succeeds in the mission, it will become the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, after the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.
Chandrayaan-2 is the country’s second lunar mission. The first mission Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008 and orbited the Moon, but did not land.
The 142-million-dollar mission, aims to map the lunar surface, examine its composition and search for water in 14 days of experiments. Chandrayaan-1 had conclusively discovered traces of water on the Moon.
India’s Moon mission comes at a time when there is renewed global interest in lunar science. The US is pushing to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024.
The Chinese unmanned probe Chang’e 4 already landed in the southern polar region of the Moon in early January. In April, an unmanned Israeli craft crashed into the Moon in a failed attempt at landing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India’s lunar programme will get a substantial boost, adding that the country’s existing knowledge of the Moon will be “significantly enhanced.” He also praised the mission for being “fully indigenous.”
Monday’s launch came a week after an earlier attempt was called off 56 minutes before lift-off due to a “technical snag.” The problem reportedly involved the critical cryogenic stage, the last such stage space vehicles enter just before they are about to launch.
The ISRO did not officially disclose details of the nature of the glitch but had said the problem had been identified and corrected.
“We fixed a serious technical snag and ISRO bounced back with flying colours,” Sivan said, drawing loud applause at the space centre after the launch.
India has an ambitious space exploration programme. Following the Chandrayaan-1, the ISRO had successfully sent a probe to Mars in 2013, called Mangalyaan.
By 2021-22, India plans to launch Gaganyaan, its first manned mission into space, at a cost of 1.4 billion dollars, coinciding with 75 years of Indian independence.
Also in the pipeline are missions to the study the Sun as well as an inter-planetary mission to Venus by 2023. ISRO also plans to build its own space station in the long term.
India’s cutting-edge space technologies have been developed at a low cost, and its space missions are acclaimed to be the cheapest in the world.
ISRO’s budget is less than 20 times that of the NASA, while the Chandrayaan-2 costs less than half Hollywood blockbusters like ‘Avengers: Endgame’ which was made at a budget of 356 million dollars, local media reported.