India is gearing up to become the fourth lunar nation with a newly confirmed launch of its Chandrayaan-2 satellite set for 2:51 am local time on July 15. If successful, India would join China, Russia, and the US in soft landing on the lunar surface and the first ever to head to the lunar South Pole.
And it will cost less than a Hollywood blockbuster.
“Chandrayaan 2 is an Indian lunar mission that will boldly go where no country has ever gone before – the Moon's south polar region. Through this effort, the aim is to improve our understanding of the Moon – discoveries that will benefit India and humanity as a whole,” wrote the Indian Space Research Organization.
As the Times of India points out, the total cost is cheap due to the country’s self-developed “simplified” technology, costing under $165 million – less than the 2014 space sci-fi movie Interstellar. Mission equipment is made up of three components weighing a total of 3.8 tonnes. The Vikram Lander is designed to function for one full lunar day, about 14 Earth days, and will help Earth-side researchers collect samples and map the lunar surface by communicating with the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) near Bangalore. It will conduct the soft-landing in conjunction with the six-wheeled Pragyan rover, meaning “wisdom” in Sanskrit, that can travel up to 500 meters (1,650 feet) using solar energy. The Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter will communicate with both the lander and the IDSN and can remain in a 100 by 100 kilometer (62 by 62 mile) lunar polar orbit for up to one year.
The mission aims to extensively map the lunar surface in order to study variations in the surface composition, which will help illuminate the origin and evolution of the Moon. It will build on work conducted more than a decade ago by Chandrayaan-1 in which the nation successfully completed a controlled crash landing. When the first-generation mission landed, gear ejected subsurface soil that was later analyzed for the presence of water. Now, researchers hope to study the extent of water molecule distribution on the surface, below, and in the Moon's exosphere. The lunar South Pole is unique from the northern part of the Moon in that it stays in a much larger shadow, leading to the possibility of water evidence being in more areas.
Earlier this year, Israel set out to be the first privately funded and operated lunar landing, but the lander malfunctioned just seconds before touchdown, IFLScience reported at the time.