India’s moon rover has been switched off after completing its walk on the lunar surface two weeks after its historic landing near the lunar south pole, the country’s space agency has said.
The Pragyan rover from the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, which took off on July 14, was “set into Sleep mode”, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, late on Saturday.
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The rover’s payloads are turned off and the data it collected has been transmitted to the Earth via the lander, the statement said.
The Chandrayaan-3 (“Mooncraft-3” in Sanskrit) lander and rover were expected to operate only for one lunar day, which is equal to 14 days on Earth. ISRO hopes that the rover may reawaken for another set of assignments when the next lunar day starts on September 22.
There was no word on the outcome of the rover searches for signs of frozen water on the lunar surface that could help future astronaut missions, as a potential source of drinking water or to make rocket fuel.
Last week, the space agency said the moon rover confirmed the presence of sulfur and detected several other elements. The rover’s laser-induced spectroscope instrument also detected aluminium, iron, calcium, chromium, titanium, manganese, oxygen and silicon on the surface, it said.
The Indian Express newspaper said the electronics on board the moon mission were not designed to withstand very low temperatures, less than -120C (-184F) during the nighttime on the moon.
Pallava Bagla, a science writer and co-author of books on India’s space exploration, said the rover has limited battery power.
The data is back on Earth and will be analysed by Indian scientists as a first look and then by the global community, he said.
By sunrise on the moon, the rover may or may not wake up because electronics can die at such cold temperatures, Bagla said.
“Making electronic circuits and components that can survive the deep cold temperature of the moon – that technology doesn’t exist in India,” he said.
After a failed attempt to land on the moon in 2019, India last week joined the United States, the Soviet Union and China as only the fourth country to achieve this milestone.
The successful mission showcases India’s rising standing as a technology and space powerhouse and dovetails with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to project an image of an ascendant country asserting its place among the global elite.
The mission began more than a month ago at an estimated cost of $75m.
India’s success came just days after Russia’s Luna 25, which was aiming for the same lunar region, spun into an uncontrolled orbit and crashed. It had been intended to be the first successful Russian lunar landing after a gap of 47 years.
The head of Russia’s state-controlled space corporation Roscosmos attributed the failure to a lack of expertise because of the long break in lunar research that followed the last Soviet mission to the moon in 1976.
Active in space exploration since the 1960s, India has launched satellites for itself and other countries, and successfully put one in orbit around Mars in 2014.
India is planning its first mission to the International Space Station next year, in collaboration with the US.