India On The Brink of Space History As Chandrayaan-2 Prepares For a Soft Lunar Landing

Friday is a big day for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Their high stakes Chandrayaan-2 Lunar Mission is expected to touch down on the moon on Friday. If all goes well, India will take a giant step forward in claiming its place among the small number of space superpowers that include the United States, China, and the former Soviet Union.

India will also become the second country to explore the far side of the moon. China has already done it. The Chandrayaan-2 mission was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota in southern Andhra Pradesh on July 22 this year.

The Chandrayaan-2 has positioned itself in a circular orbit 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the moon’s surface after two months of space travel. The lander will then separate from the main vessel, and make a soft landing on moon’s surface near its south pole on Friday.

It will then deploy a robotic rover for collecting mineral and chemical samples from the moon’s surface for remote scientific analysis.The orbiter is designed to map the lunar surface and study the outer atmosphere of the moon over the next year.

India has made stunning progress in the area of space exploration over the last decade with a series of high-value missions that have low operational costs. In 2017, India launched 104 satellites in one mission, breaking all previous launch records. The country also shot down one of its own satellites in a military show of force, making it one of four countries to do so.

In 2014, India became the first Asian nation to reach Mars, with its Mangalyaan mission which cost just $74 million. This was way below NASA’s $187 million to launch the Maven orbiter in 2013.

In 2008, the Chandrayaan-1 mission, the first lunar mission from India, discovered water molecules on the surface of the moon. Chandrayaan-2 presents a technical challenge of enormous magnitude.

“We are doing an unmanned mission … but even so, these are complex missions for a country like India. We are still a small space power and we would require to play with other major space powers,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation.

The experience and results of these missions will help India create Chandrayaan-3 – a return mission to the moon in 2023/24. A manned mission into space is also planned around 2022.

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