Space Tech of the Week: Chandrayaan-1

What is it?: India's first mission to the moon launched by India's national space agency the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The unmanned lunar exploration mission includes a lunar orbiter and an impactor. Chandrayaan is Hindi for Moon traveler.

Chandrayaan was launched onboard the Indian developed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle XL (PSLV-XL) Rocket on October 22, 2008 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh, India. Chandrayaan-1 was sent to the moon using a series of orbit increasing maneuvers around earth instead of a direct shot to the moon. The vehicle was successfully inserted into lunar orbit on November 8, 2008.

On November 14, 2008, the Moon Impact Probe successfully separated from the moon-orbiting Chandrayaan and descended towards the lunar south pole in a controlled manner making India the fourth country to land its flag on the Moon. The probe impacted the lunar south pole on November 14, 2008 releasing subsurface debris that could be analyzed for presence of water ice.

The stated scientific objectives of the mission are:

  • To design, develop, launch and orbit a spacecraft around the Moon using an Indian-made launch vehicle.
  • Conduct scientific experiments using instruments on-board the spacecraft which will yield the following results:
  1. Preparation of a three-dimensional atlas of both the near and far side of the moon.
  2. Chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface at high spatial resolution, mapping particularly the chemical elements Magnesium, Aluminium, Silicon, Calcium, Iron, Titanium, Radon, Uranium, & Thorium.
  3. The impact of a sub-satellite on the surface on the Moon as a fore-runner to future soft-landing missions.
The lunar mission also carries five ISRO payloads and six payloads from other international space agencies including NASA, ESA, and the Bulgarian Aerospace Agency, which were carried free of cost.

ISRO is also planning a second version of Chandrayaan named Chandrayaan II. According to ISRO Chairman G. Madhavan Nair, "The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) hopes to land a motorised rover on the Moon in 2012, as a part of its second Chandrayaan mission. The rover will be designed to move on wheels on the lunar surface, pick up samples of soil or rocks, do on-site chemical analysis and send the data to the mother-spacecraft Chandrayaan II, which will be orbiting above. Chandrayaan II will transmit the data to Earth."

Interesting note: U.S. President elect Barack Obama viewed the launch of Chandrayaan as a challenge to the United States. He stated "We are reminded just how urgently we must revitalize our space program, if we are to remain the undisputed leader in space, science, and technology".

So what are the advantages of this technology?: The estimated cost for the project was US$80 million which is significantly cheaper than similar missions by other countries. Other space programs need to investigate how ISRO was able to do this mission at such low costs and then they need to apply lessons learned.

ESA profile on the Chandrayaan mission:

BBC Report on the mission:

Image of the Moon taken by the spacecraft:

Official Mission Website

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