Textbook launch: India on its way to moon again as Chandrayaan-2 takes off

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Published: July 23, 2019 3:39:48 AM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to congratulate Isro: “The launch of #Chandrayaan2 illustrates the prowess of our scientists and the determination of 130 crore Indians to scale new frontiers of science.

The launch on Monday went off without any hitch, a week after it was aborted 56 minutes before liftoff due to a technical snag.

Carrying “a billion dreams” in India’s quest to land its first spacecraft on the moon, Chandrayaan-2, riding the powerful GSLV Mk-III rocket, was successfully launched at 2.43 pm on Monday from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota.

It was a textbook launch and initial anxiety evaporated 16 minutes 23 seconds later when scientists at mission control broke into applause, signalling that Chandrayaan-2 was now on its own. It had been deposited in an earth orbit by the 640-tonne GSLV Mk-III which, after burning its successive stages, had separated itself completely from the spacecraft.

The mission will see the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover modules of the spacecraft make a soft-landing near the unexplored south pole of the lunar surface 48 days from now — on September 7. Both will be “alive” there for 14 days, during which they will carry out various experiments and collect data.

The mission also has an orbiter module that will go around the moon for the next one year in an orbit 100 km from the lunar surface. During this time, instruments on board the orbiter will study the moon’s surface, its atmosphere, prepare three-dimensional maps, and also search for further evidences of water.

The launch on Monday went off without any hitch, a week after it was aborted 56 minutes before liftoff due to a technical snag. Chandrayaan-2 will spend the next 23 days circling around the earth, incrementally raising its orbit, before it would embark on a seven-day journey to enter an orbit around the moon.

Jubilation in mission control was held back till the final separation. “Today is a historic day for space and science and technology in India. I am extremely happy to announce that that GSLV Mk-III has successfully injected Chandrayaan-2 in desired orbit,” Isro chairman K Sivan said minutes later.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to congratulate Isro: “The launch of #Chandrayaan2 illustrates the prowess of our scientists and the determination of 130 crore Indians to scale new frontiers of science. Every Indian is immensely proud today!… Our existing knowledge of the Moon will be significantly enhanced.”

While the Chandrayaan-2 mission still has a long way to go, scientists had the satisfaction of seeing the GSLV Mk-III rocket, Isro’s launch vehicle for the future, complete its job successfully on its maiden operational flight. The GSLV Mk-III, which has an interesting history of how technology denial impeded India’s progress in space, has taken Isro decades to build. Meant to carry heavy spacecraft, in the range of 4,000-6,000 kg, deeper into space, GSLV Mk-III had earlier completed one experimental flight and two development flights. Chandrayaan-2 is its most important mission so far.

“Actually, it is just the beginning of India’s historic journey towards the moon, and to land at a place near the south pole (of the moon) to carry out scientific experiments to explore the unexplored,” he said.

Sivan congratulated the mission team for recovering quickly from last week’s setback and applying corrective action in quick time.
“Immediately after the technical snag was observed (on July 15 launch), we pulled it (the mission) back, and the entire Team Isro swung into action. The work done in the next 24 hours at this centre (Satish Dhawan Space Centre) was mind boggling. The launch vehicle was quickly brought back to normal. Everything happened in just 24 hours. The next one-and-half days was spent in carrying out the required tests to see whether, after the corrective action that was taken, everything functioned normally. The mammoth task was accomplished due to very hard work put in by Team Isro,” he said.

Chandrayaan-2 is attempting to land near the lunar south pole of the moon. The region is supposed to be filled with small and large craters, ranging from a few centimetres in size to those extending to several thousands of kilometres (these craters make it extremely hazardous for a spacecraft to land here). This region is also extremely cold, with temperatures in the range of minus 200° Celsius.

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