India to launch second lunar mission on July 22 after delay

Chandrayaan-2 will attempt a so-called ‘soft landing’ on the Moon, something only three other countries have achieved.

India space launch postponed
India's Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission is now scheduled to blast off on July 22 after a technical glitch delayed Monday's planned launch [Manish Swarup/AP]

India‘s space agency said on Thursday it would launch the country’s second lunar mission on July 22, after the original launch was called off due to a “technical snag” earlier this week.

Chandrayaan-2, built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is now scheduled to be launched at 09:13GMT on July 22, ISRO said in a tweet.

Monday morning’s aborted attempt to launch the Chandrayaan-2 mission would have been the latest step in India’s ambitious space programme. And it would have been nothing less than a giant technological leap for the developing country.

Chandrayaan-2 is a highly-challenging multi-stage moon mission to place into lunar orbit a spacecraft carrying a landing craft and a lunar rover. Should the orbiter reach the moon, the lunar lander will separate from the main spacecraft and attempt a controlled descent to land on the moon’s surface at the south pole.

What ISRO hopes to attempt is called a “soft landing”, a technological feat that only the former Soviet Union, the United States and China have so far achieved on the moon. In April, an Israeli team saw their Beresheet lander fail to slow down and then slam into the lunar surface.

India also has more than just national pride riding on the success or failure of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. The country’s ambitions include commercial aspirations.

“It will foster a new age of discovery, increase our understanding of space, promote more global alliances, stimulate the advancement of technology and grow commercial opportunities in India and inspire future generations,” ISRO Chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said.

Commercially viable?

In addition to technology and science, India’s space programme also wants to prove it can compete in terms of cost. Chandrayaan-2’s economy-class price tag of just $141m as at Monday’s attempted launch date covers the rocket, orbiter, lander, rover and the scientific payloads. But that cost may still rise.

Nevertheless, that price is $9m less than what SpaceX charges for its three-rocket Falcon Heavy launch services that simply take up and then drop off the largest of payloads into Low Earth Orbit. SpaceX has also suffered setbacks, losing a single-rocket, Falcon 9, to an explosion during a non-flight test firing in 2016.

India’s objective to join SpaceX in becoming a commercial space services provider is now government policy. India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman formally announced in her budget speech on July 5 the creation of a new public sector enterprise, New Space India Ltd.

Sitharaman made it clear that ISRO’s ambitions to reach the moon and beyond are integrated into the government’s blueprint to create a $5 trillion national economy by 2025.

Despite India’s emerging market status, it is thought the nation’s space industry already generates $7bn in revenue. Morgan Stanley estimates global space industry revenues will increase from the current level of $350bn to $1.1 trillion by 2040.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies