Chandrayaan 2: Here’s Why It Is India’s Most Ambitious Space Mission

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Chandrayaan 2

The saying goes, tough as rocket science. We use this reference for things and tasks too difficult to understand and achieve. The ingenuity and precision required to set free from Earth’s gravity can be mind-numbing. For instance, most rockets are propelled by thrusters burning liquid hydrogen. During the process, the rocket engines can reach the peak temperature of 6000-degree Celsius, which is enough to vaporize metals and alloys. So how do rocket scientists protect the engine from such scorching temperatures? The answer is regenerative cooling. It involves running liquid hydrogen stored at -253 degrees Celsius around the engine to absorb the heat and cool down the temperature from about 6000 degrees C to under 60 degree Celsius.

thrusters

This is how complex and fascinating rocketry is and we haven’t even scratched the surface. It is no surprise that out of over 190 countries only a handful few have managed to master this technology. With the Chandrayaan 2, India is set to join the elite club that includes the US, Russia, and China. To find out what exactly this mission is all about and where do we stand compared to the space missions from other countries, read on:

Space Mission Milestones

To understand why Chandrayaan 2 is a big deal, we need a little primer on space missions. The golden age of space exploration was right after World War II. During the cold war, the Soviet Union and the United States were in a race to outdo each other on the technological front and space was the final frontier. Just before the end of the war, Wernher von Braun had developed the world’s first guided ballistic missile V-2 rocket under the Nazi regime. It was the first man-made object to cross the Karman’s line 100 km above Earth’s mean sea level. After the German defeat, the US government secretly transferred over 1,600 German scientists including Wernher von Braun to the US under the now declassified Operation Paperclip. Later, Braun became a key figure in NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Soviets too took over 2,000 German scientists to boost their space and weapons development under Operation Osoaviakhim. By 1957, the Soviets had successfully launched the world’s first artificial satellite Sputnik. It was followed by the Explorer 1 satellite from the US in 1958.

SputnikArtist Marcia Hoppers’ impression of Sputnik.

In 1961, the old Russia beat the US again when its cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in the space. The US then did what no other country has managed to do so far. The land of the free landed men on the Moon in 1969. It has been over half a century and no other country has managed to match this feat.

Apollo MissionImage credits: NASA

Chandrayaan 2 is an unmanned mission, so let’s not compare it to the Apollo manned missions. However, soft-landing itself is quite a big deal. Only three countries including Russia and China have the bragging rights for soft-landing a spacecraft on the lunar surface after all. That’s what Chandrayaan 2 is aiming for. On the other hand, Chandryaan-1 was only an orbiter. If you find that a bit confusing, let’s learn a bit about the components of Chandrayaan 2.

Chandrayaan 2 Specifications And Payload

Much like its predecessor, the Chandryaan 2 has been lift-off by a powerful GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) Mk-III vehicle. It consists of S200 solid rocket boosters and L110 liquid propelled engine for the later stage. This made in India rocket vehicle produces enough power to launch 4-ton class satellites to the geosynchronous orbit.

LauncherImage source: ISRO

Next up, is the orbiter, which will orbit around the Moon much like the Chandrayaan 1. Using the onboard Terrain Mapping Camera 2, it will scan the lunar terrain to help prepare a 3D map the surface. Multiple spectrometers, RADAR, and camera equipment will help us detect the minerals on Earth’s natural satellite. All this data and images will be relayed to the Earth by the Chandrayaan Orbitor.

Artist's impression of orbiterArtist’s impression of Chandrayaan 2 orbiter

What makes the Chandrayaan 2 different from the first mission is the Vikram lander. It was detached from the orbiter on September 2. After a couple of deorbiting maneuvers, Vikram lander will attempt soft-landing on September 7. Using controlled engine bursts to deaccelerate and perform a touchdown is going to test India’s finest minds working for ISRO. As opposed to the impact probe that crashes on a celestial body, a soft-landing vehicle remains functional after making it to the surface.

TouchdownThe mission doesn’t end here. The Vikram lander is equipped with a 6-wheeled rover Pragyan. Unlike the Apollo mission buggies with a designated top speed of 13 km per hour, the Pragyan rover will take cautious steps at half a km per hour at max speeds. Pragyan is loaded with x-ray and laser spectrometer to study the elements near the landing site. It can send data to the Vikram lander, which can then relay it to the orbiter before sent to the ISRO control room.

Watch The History Unfold, Live

As mentioned earlier, the Vikram lander has already separated from the orbiter. On Sep 7, it will begin its descent maneuver between 1 am and 2 am. The touchdown is likely to happen before 2:30 am. The world will get to watch this event live on Doordarshan. You can also stream it from ISRO’s website and YouTube channel.


Chandrakant is a sci-fi movie aficionado and wannabe space explorer. He writes about consumer technology for bread and butter. He has worked with some of the esteemed publications like PCMag, TechTree, Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, NDTV Gadgets, and more.