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Chandrayaan-3's Propulsion Module Returns To Earth Orbit After "Special Operation" During Eclipse

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James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

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The orbit of Chandrayaan-3 Propulsion Module

The propulsion module's orbit so far (left) and its projected orbit for a year (right).

Image credit: ISRO.

In August, India became the fourth nation to touch down on the Moon, and the first to land near (but definitely not on) the lunar south pole. The mission was an overwhelming success, with the lander and rover conducting experiments to measure the temperature at the landing site and analyze the composition of the lunar soil, before shutting down in the lunar night.

Now, in a surprise move (even to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), given that they weren't expecting to have the fuel for such a maneuver), the propulsion module that took the lander to the Moon has returned to Earth orbit. 

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The propulsion module's primary objective was to deliver the Vikram Lander to the Moon – but it also had another payload. After separation, the Spectro-polarimetry of HAbitable Planet Earth (SHAPE) payload was deployed and operated for a planned lifespan of about three months. As the end of the mission neared, they realized they had fuel spare for a bonus end to the mission.

"The precise orbit injection by LVM3 and optimal earth / lunar burn maneuvers, resulted in the availability of over 100 kg [220 pounds] of fuel in the PM [Propulsion Module] after over one month of operations in the lunar orbit," ISRO said in a statement. "It was decided to use the available fuel in the PM to derive additional information for future lunar missions and demonstrate the mission operation strategies for a sample return mission."

After a few maneuvers, the module made four last Moon fly-bys before leaving its orbit and heading out on a trajectory taking it into Earth's orbit. Here, it is orbiting us around every 13 days, with no threat to any other orbiting satellites, ISRO says.

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SHAPE will now be repurposed for Earth observations whenever it is close enough to observe us. In a tantalizing hint of science to come, ISRO added that SHAPE carried out a "special operation" on October 28, 2023, during a Solar Eclipse. 

Solar eclipses are especially useful for space scientists, particularly for studying the Sun itself – but for now, we'll have to wait and see what they were up to.


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spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy
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  • ISRO,

  • Astronomy,

  • the moon,

  • Chandrayaan-3

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