SRIHARIKOTA RANGE: At 2.51 am on Monday, India's second probe to the Moon, Chandrayaan-2, will set off on its 3,84,000 km voyage in an effort to break new frontiers in space: explore the unplumbed South Pole region of the Earth's satellite.
The countdown for its journey on board ISRO's most powerful rocket, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III, commenced early on Sunday morning at the end of a slew of checks of all systems and communication links and a couple of launch rehearsals.
Weather forecasts are indicating ideal conditions for a blastoff from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) at India's space port, Sriharikota Range. About 16 minutes after the liftoff, the rocket will propel Chandrayaan-2 into space for its 50-day cruise towards the Moon. The lander, 'Vikram', and rover, 'Pragyan', will touch down on the lunar soil on September 6/7 during an operation described as "the most terrifying 15 minutes" by Dr K. Sivan, Chairman, ISRO.
The launch of Chandrayaan-2 coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which placed humans on the Moon, for the first time. On July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 spacecraft blasted off into space. Four days later, on July 20, the Apollo 11 craft landed on the Moon. American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history, becoming the first men to walk on the Moon.
Interestingly, NASA will hitch a ride to the Moon on board Chandrayaan-2 with its instrument, the Laser Retroreflector Array, to discover clues about the lunar interior. Sources in ISRO said the unexplored South Pole region was chosen for a soft-landing and to carry out studies in an effort to solve mysteries about birth and expansion of the Solar System, as the region has craters which are cold traps and hold fossil records of the early epoch of evolution of the Sun and planets. This will be the first mission to touch down far away from the Moon's equator and therefore would foster a new age of discovery and perhaps promote global alliances for inter-planetary exploration as a precursor to building human colonies in space.
Sources said the lander and rover would also scout for new minerals and chemicals in the lunar soil, study the phenomenon of Moonquakes, and confirm the presence of water-ice on the lunar surface. The total cost of building and testing Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, lander and rover is Rs 603 crore, according to Dr Sivan. This does not include cost of making GSLV-Mk-III rocket at Rs 375 crore. So, the total cost of Chandrayaan 2 mission adds up to about Rs 978 crore....