ISRO gets ready for the delayed launch of Chandrayaan-2

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Lalit Shastri

When China has established its progress in space exploration by landing Chang’e 4 lunar rover on the far side of moon which has not been explored before, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is busy giving final touches to the much delayed launch of Chandrayaan-2, which was orginally scheduled for 2015 or 2017 but is now planned for early this year.

Chandrayaan-2 will be an advanced version of the previous Chandrayaan-1 mission to Moon. It is configured as a two module system comprising of an Orbiter Craft module (OC) and a Lander Craft module (LC) carrying the Rover developed by ISRO.

In October (2018), ISRO successfully tested the Cryogenic Engine (CE-20) for GSLV Mk-III / Chandrayaan-2 Mission.

GSLV-Mk III / Chandrayaan-2 Mission is a totally indigenous mission comprising of an Orbiter, Lander and Rover. After reaching the 100 km lunar orbit, the Lander housing the Rover will separate from the Orbiter. After a controlled descent, the Lander will soft land on the lunar surface at a specified site and deploy a Rover.

The mission will carry a six-wheeled Rover which will move around the landing site in semi-autonomous mode as decided by the ground commands. The instruments on the rover will observe the lunar surface and send back data, which will be useful for analysis of the lunar soil.

After ISRO had already established its capability for Moon Orbiter through Chandrayaan-1, the Indian Space agency and Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) had entered into an agreement and the two agencies started pursuing Chandrayaan-2 as a joint mission with ROSCOSMOS having the responsibility for the Moon Lander and ISRO the responsibility to realize the Rover Module, Orbiter and the launch by GSLV.

When the lander was to be provided by Russia, Chandrayaan-2, was being targeted for launch during 2013.

Due to of the failure of the Russian-led interplanetary mission Phobos-Grunt, a sample return mission to Phobos (one of the moons of Mars), decision was taken by ROSCOSMOS to increase the reliability of their planetary missions. ROSCOSMOS suggested that ISRO could provide Indian Rover for launch initially scheduled for 2015 or in 2017. At that stage, it was especially taken into consideration that the 2015 opportunity involved mass limitation for Rover and higher risk.

Since these inputs from Russian side called for a major programmatic re-alignment, an integrated programmatic review on Chandrayaan-2 (chaired by Prof U R Rao) was carried out about 4 years ago to critically assess ISRO’s capability to design and deploy a Landing craft in a short time frame. The integrated review of Chandrayaan-2, recommended that India could realize the Lander module in the next few years.

In the later part of 2013 the exercise had begun to reconfigure the spacecraft for the proposed Indian Rover and Lander modules.

Three years later in December 2016, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh told the Rajya Sabha in writing that ISRO was working towards the launch of Chandrayaan-2 during the first quarter of 2018.

In mid-February 2018, Dr. Singh had announced at a press conference that Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was planning to launch Chandrayan-2, India’s second mission to the moon around April 2018. The Mission would place India at a new height in space technology as it would be for the first time “we will carry an orbiter, a lander and a rover to the moon” the Minister had told media-persons.

On this occasion, Secretary, Department of Space and Chairman Space Commission Dr. Sivan K had said “if the mission’s launch could not take place in April due to unsuitable weather, the window for launch would be open till October 2018.

After ISRO had missed the tentative deadline of April 2018, Dr Jitendra Singh had limited himself and without projecting any window for launch, told Lok Sabha on 18 July 2018 that ISRO was planning to deploy a rover on the lunar surface through Chandrayaan-2 mission.

Chandrayaan-2 was envisaged and approved by Government of India in September 2008 (at the original cost of ` 425 crores, excluding cost of GSLV and Lander).

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