India approves third moon mission

Third approved lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, is the latest effort in India’s ambitions to become a low-cost space power.

Chandrayaan-2 Vikrim Lander
Students in Mumbai, India walk past a screen during a live streaming of the September 2019 Chandrayaan-2 mission, during which the Vikrim Lander failed to arrive successfully on the lunar surface [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

Putting its failed 2019 lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 behind it, India‘s space agency has said it will again attempt to land on the moon in 2020.

The new mission, Chandrayaan-3, will consist of a lander and a rover, but not an orbiter, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Sivan told reporters on Wednesday at the agency’s headquarters in Bengaluru, according to an official telecast.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission in September successfully deployed a lunar orbiter that relays scientific data back to earth.

But ISRO’s hopes to send the remote-controlled Vikram Lander to the moon were dashed when it lost contact with the landing craft just as it was meant to touch down.

Chandrayaan-2 had aimed to land the Virkam Lander on the south pole of the moon, where no other lunar mission had gone before. The region is believed to contain water as craters in the area are largely unaffected by the high temperatures of the sun.

ISRO had hoped to confirm the presence of water in the form of ice, first detected on its mission in 2008.

In December, NASA confirmed that it had found the crash site of the Vikram Lander on the moon with the help of amateur space enthusiast Shanmuga Subramanian, a 33-year-old IT architect from Chennai, India.

Chandrayaan-3 will have a “similar configuration” as the previous mission, Sivan said.

Only the United States, Russia and China have landed on the moon. Beijing’s Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon last year, while Israel made an unsuccessful attempt to land its Beresheet spacecraft on the moon in April 2019.

India’s third lunar mission will likely launch in 2020 and will cost less than its previous mission, the PTI news agency reported on Tuesday, citing Jitendra Singh, junior minister for the department of space.

Sivan also said ISRO was making “good progress” for its human space-flight mission slated for late 2021, adding that four astronauts had been picked for training, which will be planned later this month. The project, called Gaganyaan, would cost less than 100 billion rupees ($1.4bn), the government said in 2018.

India has developed a reputation for pioneering affordable satellite launches and space missions. Its unmanned Mars mission in 2014 cost just $74m, less than the budget of the Hollywood space blockbuster, Gravity.

Sivan also announced that ISRO had begun the land acquisition process for a second spaceport in the southern port city of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu state.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies