The unveiling of India's lunar Odyssey and the challenges faced by Vikram and Pragyan

23.09.2023 posted by Admin

India's lunar exploration setback

As the sun ascended over the lunar landscape where India's Vikram lander and Pragyan rover are stationed, these robotic explorers remained inactive.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), often referred to as India's equivalent of NASA, reported on Friday that mission controllers on Earth had sent a signal to wake up Vikram.

As anticipated, the lander did not respond. Despite ongoing efforts in the coming days, this might mark the conclusion of Chandrayaan-3, India's maiden triumphant foray onto the surface of another celestial body.

India joins a select group of nations, including the United States, the Soviet Union, and China, in achieving an unblemished moon landing. Vikram, which touched down a month ago, also holds the distinction of being the inaugural spacecraft to alight in the moon's south polar region, a place of burgeoning scientific interest lately.

Immediately following its landing, the diminutive rover, Pragyan, descended a ramp and began its exploration. Over the following ten days, as the sun traversed the lunar sky, these solar-powered machines conducted extensive research in their surroundings, measuring subterranean temperatures, analyzing lunar soil compositions, and monitoring for moonquakes.

As the sun dipped below the lunar horizon, ISRO officials dispatched commands to put Vikram and Pragyan into a dormant state. Their batteries were fully charged, and Pragyan's solar panels were oriented toward the anticipated sunrise location.

The aspiration was that when sunlight once again bathed their solar panels, the spacecraft would recharge and spring back to life. Regrettably, this hope was in vain. Neither Vikram nor Pragyan were designed to endure an extended, frigid lunar night, where temperatures plummet to more than a hundred degrees below zero—considerably colder than their electronic components could withstand. While it was possible for the spacecraft designers to incorporate heaters or employ more robust components, this would have inflated costs, added weight, and increased complexity.

Even if the spacecraft do not reawaken, the Chandrayaan-3 mission constitutes a triumph for ISRO, easing the disappointment from four years ago when their inaugural moon landing attempt ended in a crash during the Chandrayaan-2 mission.

Undaunted by setbacks, ISRO replicated the flawed lander, addressing deficiencies in the original design, and took another shot. This time, on August 23, the landing transpired flawlessly. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi observing via a video link, jubilation filled the control room upon confirming Vikram's safe arrival.

Mr. Modi subsequently remarked, "Chandrayaan-3's success reflects the ambitions and capabilities of 1.4 billion Indians," characterizing the event as "a defining moment for India's growth."

The mission's scientific investigations encompassed deploying a temperature probe from Vikram, which penetrated the lunar surface. The probe registered a steep decline in temperature, dropping from approximately 120 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface to just 10 degrees three inches beneath. This underscores the moon's poor heat conduction properties.

This poor heat conduction could have significant implications for future astronauts; an underground outpost could provide effective insulation against the extreme temperature fluctuations at the lunar surface.

Another instrument aboard Vikram, a seismometer, detected what appeared to be a moonquake on August 26.

Pragyan traversed a distance of over 300 feet. As it roamed, it emitted laser pulses into rocks and soil, enabling the identification of elements based on the colors of light emitted from the vaporized material. The instrument confirmed the presence of elements such as aluminum, calcium, iron, and titanium. Surprisingly, it also detected sulfur.

Sulfur traces were previously observed in lunar soil and rock samples brought back to Earth by NASA's Apollo astronauts and Soviet robotic missions many years ago. The measurement from Pragyan suggests that sulfur concentrations might be elevated in the polar regions. Sulfur holds utility in various technologies, including solar cells, batteries, as well as in the production of fertilizer and concrete.

Before entering its dormant state earlier this month, Vikram executed a small final maneuver, firing its engines to elevate itself approximately 16 inches above the surface before gently descending once more. This hop shifted Vikram's position by a range of 12 to 16 inches, according to ISRO.

"Anticipating a successful reawakening for additional tasks!" ISRO posted on the social network formerly known as Twitter, on September 2. "Otherwise, it will forever remain as India's lunar ambassador."
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