India's moon probe enters lunar orbit

Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation K. Sivan using a model of the country's first moon probe to explain the lunar orbit insertion manoeuvre at Isro's headquarters in Bangalore yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation K. Sivan using a model of the country's first moon probe to explain the lunar orbit insertion manoeuvre at Isro's headquarters in Bangalore yesterday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGALORE • India's Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft entered lunar orbit yesterday, executing one of the trickiest manoeuvres on its historic mission to the moon.

After four weeks in space, the craft completed its lunar orbit insertion as planned, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said in a statement.

The insertion "was completed successfully today at 0902 hrs IST as planned, using the on-board propulsion system. The duration of manoeuvre was 1738 seconds", the national space agency said.

India is seeking to become just the fourth nation - after Russia, the United States and China - to land a spacecraft on the moon.

If the rest of the mission goes to plan, the Indian probe will land on the lunar south pole on Sept 7.

To enter the final orbit over the lunar poles, Chandrayaan 2 will undergo four more similar manoeuvres, with the next set for today.

Isro chief K. Sivan said the manoeuvre was a key milestone for the mission, adding he was hoping for a perfect landing next month.

"On Sept 7, the lander will land on the moon. Whatever is humanly possible, has been done by us," Mr Sivan told reporters.

Yesterday's insertion was one of the trickiest operations in the mission because if the satellite had approached the moon at a higher velocity, it would have bounced off and got lost in deep space. And had it approached at a slower velocity, the moon's gravity would have pulled it in, causing a crash.

"The approach velocity had to be just right and the altitude over the moon precise. Even a small error would have killed the mission," Mr Sivan said. "Our heartbeats increased... for 30 minutes, our hearts almost stopped."

 

Chandrayaan 2, or Moon Chariot 2, lifted off from India's spaceport at Sriharikota in southern Andhra Pradesh state on July 22.

The spacecraft used in the mission comprises an orbiter, a lander and a rover almost all designed and made in India. The orbiter has a mission life of a year and will take images of the lunar surface.

Isro said the mission will help scientists to better understand the origin and evolution of the moon by conducting detailed topographical studies, mineral analyses and a host of other experiments.

About US$140 million (S$194 million) was spent preparing for the probe's mission - a much smaller price tag compared with similar operations by other countries. It was launched on India's most powerful rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III. The lift-off was successful on its second attempt, a week after it was aborted just under an hour from its launch due to a technical glitch.

India's first lunar mission in 2008 - Chandrayaan-1 - did not land on the moon, but carried out a search for water using radar.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2019, with the headline 'India's moon probe enters lunar orbit'. Print Edition | Subscribe