India launches mission to the moon with Chandrayaan 2

India is off to the moon with the 3,840-kilogram Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft that was launched into an earth orbit on Monday.

The spacecraft is now revolving around the earth with a nearest point to Earth of 169.7 kilometres and a farthest point to Earth of 45,475 km, the Indian Space Research Organisation said. It is the first operational flight of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV MkIII-M1.

After a countdown lasting 20 hours, the vehicle lifted off from the second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR (SDSC SHAR), Sriharikota at the scheduled launch time of 1443Hrs (2:43 pm) IST with the ignition of its two S200 solid strap-on motors, the organisation said.

The successful lift off of the Chandrayaan 2: Photo Courtesy: ISRO

About 16 minutes 14 seconds after lift-off, the vehicle injected Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft into an elliptical earth orbit. Immediately after spacecraft separation from the vehicle, the solar array of the spacecraft automatically got deployed and ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC), Bengaluru successfully took control of the spacecraft. 

Congratulations were pouring in from around the world.

“Today is a historical day for Space Science and Technology in India. I am extremely happy to announce that GSLV MkIII-M1 successfully injected Chandrayaan-2 into an orbit of 6000 Km more than the intended orbit and is better,” said ISRO Chairman Dr K Sivan. 

This mission “is unique because it will explore and perform studies on the south pole region of the lunar terrain which is not explored and sampled by any past mission,” said India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “This mission will offer new knowledge about the moon.”

Some 7500 people witnessed the launch and celebrated. Photo Courtesy: ISRO

In the coming days, a series of orbit manoeuvres will be carried out using Chandrayaan-2’s onboard propulsion system, the ISRO said. This will raise the spacecraft orbit in steps and then place it in the Lunar Transfer Trajectory to enable the spacecraft to travel to the vicinity of the Moon, it added.

GSLV Mk III is a three-stage launch vehicle developed by ISRO. The vehicle has two solid strap-ons, a core liquid booster and a cryogenic upper stage. The vehicle is designed to carry 4 ton class of satellites into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) or about 10 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Chandrayaan-2 is India's second mission to the moon. It comprises a fully indigenous Orbiter, Lander (Vikram) and Rover (Pragyan). The Rover Pragyan is housed inside Vikram lander.

The mission objective of Chandrayaan-2 is to develop and demonstrate the key technologies for end-to-end lunar mission capability, including soft-landing and roving on the lunar surface. This mission aims to further expand India’s knowledge about the Moon through a detailed study of its topography, mineralogy, surface chemical composition, thermo-physical characteristics and atmosphere leading to a better understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon.

More pictures of the people at the launch venue. Courtesy: ISRO

Below is a gist of what will be the next steps, according to ISRO:

– on entering Moon's sphere of influence, the on-board propulsion system of Chandrayaan-2 will be fired to slow down the spacecraft. This will enable it to be captured into a preliminary orbit around the Moon. Later, through a set of manoeuvres, the orbit of Chandrayaan-2 around the moon will be circularised at 100 km height from the lunar surface.

– the lander will separate from the Orbiter and enter into a 100 km X 30 km orbit around the Moon.  Then, it will perform a series of complex braking maneuvers to soft land in the South polar region of the Moon on September 7, 2019.

– the Rover will roll out from the lander and carry out experiments on the lunar surface for a period of 1 lunar day, which is equal to 14 Earth days. The mission life of the lander is also 1 lunar day.The Orbiter will continue its mission for a duration of one year.

– The orbiter had a lift-off weight of about 2,369 kg, while the lander and rover weighed 1,477 kg and 26 kg respectively.  The rover can travel up to 500 m (half a kilometre) and relies on electric power generated by its solar panel for functioning.