ISRO and the Lunar Missions: Chandrayaan


Future readiness is the key to maintaining an edge in technology and ISRO is committed to it. ISRO endeavours to optimise and enhance its technologies as the needs and ambitions of the country evolve has proved the same without fail. Throughout the years, ISRO has upheld its mission to bring space and be of service to the common man and of the Nation. After all, as they say, never underestimate the power of a Common man. Jokes apart, in the process, ISRO has become one among the six largest space agencies in the world. ISRO maintains one of the largest fleet of communication satellites (INSAT), Earth observation and remote sensing (IRS) satellites, that cater to the ever-growing demand and need for fast and reliable communication in the current time when a single click can connect you to the polar end of the globe. ISRO develops and delivers application-specific satellite products and tools to the Nation: broadcasts, communications, weather forecasts, disaster management tools, Geographic Information Systems, cartography, navigation, telemedicine, dedicated distance education satellites being some of them. Not to mention the landmark attempts to land on the very lunar Satellite of earth that’s always been an object of fiction, stories and lullabies of littles. That’s right! Chandrayaan I and Chandrayaan II.

Chandrayaan-1 played a crucial role in the discovery of water molecules on the lunar Satellite of the earth. Chandrayaan-1 was the first Indian deep space mission launched to orbit the Moon, to dispatch an impactor to the surface was a landmark in the history of Indian space technology. Its major goal was to collect data about the moon’s geology, mineralogy and topography and was launched on 22 October 2008. Notably, Chandrayaan-1’s data helped to determine the presence of water ice on the moon, which was announced by NASA in September 2009. The agency’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper detected evidence of a hydrogen-oxygen chemical bond when looking at the top area of the moon’s soil and the signal of water appeared to be much stronger at the poles. After NASA’s announcement, ISRO said its Moon Impact Probe had also detected the signature of water on the moon, just before it impacted the surface.

The water signal was confirmed by other spacecraft observations as well. The Cassini spacecraft also spotted the water/hydroxyl signal in 1999 while passing by the moon on its way to Saturn. Even the Deep Impact spacecraft’s extended EPOXI mission examined the moon in infrared wavelengths, which later found the signal while making several flybys of the moon and Earth on its way to Comet 103P/Hartley 2.

Follow-up observations by NASA’s LCROSS found more water at the moon’s South pole and were announced by NASA in November 2009. This and other observations of water ice by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in the years have led some engineers to speculate that the future explorers would be able to use the reservoirs for lunar colonies, depending on how much water is available.

Evidence of water molecules discovered by Chandrayaan-1, required further studies on the extent of water molecule distribution on the surface, below the surface and in the tenuous lunar exosphere to trace the origin of water on Moon. The Lunar South pole is especially interesting on the matter because of the lunar surface area that remains in shadow is much larger than that at the North Pole of the moon. So what? Well, that invites a possibility of the presence of water in permanently shadowed areas around it and to add to that South Pole region of the moon has craters that are cold traps and contain a fossil record of the early Solar System, which gave birth to the onset of Chandrayaan 2 mission by ISRO. Chandrayaan 2 was launched on 22 July 2019 and wasn’t a success when it crashed hard into the lunar surface in September 2019. Although, it was short-lived, but as they say, ‘Mistakes are lesson learnt and a price paid”. And it seems that although it was quite a hard pill to swallow, ISRO did get back on its feet, announcing Chandrayaan 3 on 2nd January 2020. The Chandrayaan-3 mission will consist of a lunar rover and a stationary lander and has been approved by the Indian government, K. Sivan, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as well.