New Delhi, 15 July 2019 (dpa/MIA) – The launch of India’s highly-anticipated first lunar landing mission was called off just before lift-off early Monday due to a technical snag, the country’s space agency said.
The Chandrayaan-2 – which means ‘Moon vehicle’ in Sanskrit – was scheduled to be launched on a rocket from the southern spaceport of Sriharikota at 2:51 a.m (2121 GMT).
Indian Space Research Organisation said a technical snag was observed in the powerful Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III rocket an hour before launch, resulting in the countdown being put on hold.
“As a measure of abundant precaution, Chandrayaan-2 launch has been called off for today. Revised launch date will be announced later,” ISRO spokesman BR Guruprasad told reporters just minutes before the scheduled lift-off.
The countdown screen was frozen at 56 minutes and 24 seconds to the launch, footage on state-run broadcaster Doordarshan showed.
No further details about the technical problem were released. Indian President Ram Nath Kovind was present at the spaceport for the launch.
India was seeking to become the fourth country to achieve a soft-landing on the Moon after the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.
A successful Moon landing will consolidate India’s place among the world’s leading space-faring countries.
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.
It will take at least 10 days before the next launch schedule can be determined, an ISRO official told the IANS news agency, adding that it would take time for the rocket to be emptied of fuel and taken for investigation.
Launch windows have to meet several technical criteria and so it could even take weeks or months for a new date, broadcaster NDTV reported.
This was to be the third launch of GSLV Mark III rocket, with the previous two being successful.
“If you look at launch histories from all countries, if you compile statistics, this is nothing off normal. Snags do happen…,” Alok Chatterjee from NASA told the NDTV network.
“It is an elaborate and laboriously put-together mission and you want to make absolutely sure that you don’t launch under such conditions.”
The ambitious Chandrayaan-2 probe comprising an orbiter, lander and rover was due to touch down on the Moon’s largely unexplored south pole region by September 6 or 7 after a journey of 384,000 kilometres.
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 probe was being planned around the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first US mission to land astronauts on the Moon, and 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 has 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.
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 space programme has repeatedly drawn criticism that the country in which millions or people remain mired in poverty and disease can afford to engage in space exploration.
Indian scientists argue that the technology developed in space programmes has practical applications in areas such as remote sensing, flood management, cyclone warnings, missile technologies and material sciences.
India’s cutting-edge space technologies have been developed at a low cost, and its space missions are the cheapest in the world.