Chandrayaan-3 rover rolls out, begins 14-day data mission

In a Thursday morning announcement, ISRO confirmed the secure release of rover Pragyan from the lander, initiating its mission for exploring the lunar surface.
Mrigakshi Dixit
An illustrative image depicting the rover at the southern pole of the Moon.
An illustrative image depicting the rover at the southern pole of the Moon.


On August 24, hours after India's Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft's historic landing on the lunar south pole, a side panel of the landing module unfolded, creating a ramp for the 57-pound (26-kilogram) rover to exit the lander. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), in a Thursday morning announcement on X (formerly Twitter), confirmed the safe release of rover Pragyan from lander Vikram, initiating its mission for lunar surface exploration.

Merely days following Russia's Luna-25 crash, its initial lunar mission in 47 years, India's triumph in landing on this uncharted polar expanse took center stage.

Despite the rough, crater-filled terrain near the south pole, the Chandrayaan-3 team diligently chose a comparably level area for a precise, gentle landing. The lander module weighs around 3862 pounds (1752 kg).

What’s next for the mission? 

ISRO has successfully achieved its primary objective of a secure and gentle lunar surface landing.

Now, the mission is tasked with critical phases. The first challenge is to demonstrate the rover's capacity to maneuver through the rugged terrain of the south pole. Besides the initial deployment update, ISRO has yet to disclose further details about the rover's movements.

This compact robotic vehicle will meticulously survey lunar regolith, conducting in-depth chemical and elemental analyses. Within a brief span of just two weeks (equivalent to 14 Earth days or one lunar day), the lander and rover will carry out distinct experiments using their advanced suite of scientific instruments.

This constrained operational window stems from the harsh conditions prevailing in the Moon's southern polar area. With perpetual darkness and temperatures plummeting to -230 degrees Celsius, instrument operation becomes notably more challenging.

Below is a compilation of scientific apparatus along with their core experimental objectives.'

The rover consists of two payloads

The Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) will derive valuable data on the Moon's chemical and mineral makeup.

Another payload, the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), will hunt for elements including magnesium, aluminum, silicon, potassium, and calcium in the lunar soil. This data could potentially provide insights into Earth's formation, the early solar system, and the surface chemistry of its singular natural satellite.

Chandrayaan-3 rover rolls out, begins 14-day data mission
The image captured by the Landing Imager Camera after the landing.

The lander is equipped with four payloads

RAMBHA (Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive Ionosphere and Atmosphere) is specifically focused on tracking alterations in the nearby gas and plasma environment as time progresses.

The Chandra's Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) will acquire measurements of the thermal properties of the lunar surface at the South Pole.

Another payload, the Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA), will monitor and measure seismic activity at the landing location. This data could precisely map the Moon's interior structure, particularly its crust and mantle.

The fourth payload is built by NASA: the Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA). 

The ISRO website mentions the LRA as a "passive experiment to understand the dynamics of the Moon system".

It will mainly conduct lunar ranging experiments, which include zapping a signal using a laser-based reflector and then measuring the duration it takes for the signal to bounce back. NASA still uses retroreflectors placed by the Apollo missions to calculate the distance between Earth and the Moon. 

South Pole: the hotspot of water ice

Data acquired by the rover will be relayed to ground stations through the Lander Module. The wealth of data generated through these series of experiments will expand our understanding of our celestial neighbor’s elusive yet resourceful South Pole. 

The South Pole is a pivotal location for future deep space missions as it consists of reservoirs of water ice, and other valuable resources. Water ice could be particularly used to make fuel for rockets, oxygen to breathe, and water to drink for future explorers.

Tapping into the moon's water resources would alleviate the strain of bringing it from Earth, which would take up a lot of room and weight on the spaceship and raise the mission cost. 

Consequently, a fleet of missions involving various nations, including the United States and China, has turned its attention to the South Pole region with the aim of assessing these resources and experimenting with extraction methods.

Chandrayaan-1, India's inaugural lunar mission, played a pivotal role in detecting lunar water. The space community is now eagerly awaiting the intriguing revelations that its successor might unveil in the upcoming weeks and months

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