Following its historic landing on the lunar surface, the Chandrayaan-3 lander, India’s lunar mission, is currently in a state of dormancy, resting during the 14-day lunar night. Mission controllers plan to reactivate the spacecraft later this month. The primary mission objectives have been successfully achieved, solidifying the Chandrayaan-3 lander’s place in exploration history. During the past two weeks, the lander conducted technology demonstrations and collected data, with a focus on analyzing the moon’s soil composition and its ultra-thin atmosphere.
The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft successfully landed on the lunar surface on August 23, marking India as the fourth nation globally to accomplish such a feat, following the Soviet Union, the United States, and China. Notably, only China and India have achieved lunar landings in the 21st century.
This mission was significant as it explored the lunar south pole, a region of great scientific and strategic importance due to its believed water ice deposits. Water ice could potentially serve as a valuable resource for drinking water or rocket fuel for future space missions.
In India, the Chandrayaan-3 mission was celebrated as a source of national pride, with over 70 million people tuning in to watch the landing online, and thousands attending viewing events across the country. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed the nation’s commitment to scientific endeavors that benefit humanity.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) confirmed that the Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander was placed in sleep mode as it cannot conduct scientific data collection during the lunar night, where it is in the Earth’s shadow. The ISRO plans to reactivate the lander and its small rover on September 22.
Chandrayaan-3’s landing success contrasted with Russia’s recent failure to land its Luna-25 spacecraft near the moon’s south pole. Following the landing, the ISRO promptly confirmed the successful deployment of the lunar rover from the lander.
The lander and rover are equipped with various scientific instruments, including a laser to analyze the moon’s regolith composition for water ice, a seismometer to detect lunar quakes, and a spectroscope to examine surface elements like sulfur. All instruments operated normally during the mission.
Despite a hotter surface temperature than anticipated, the mission collected valuable data. The rover also detected seismic activity and identified sulfur near the lunar south pole, sparking interest in its origin, whether natural or from meteor strikes or volcanic activity.
On September 2, the rover’s operations were paused, although its solar panels were adjusted to capture sunlight when the lunar day returns later this month. Meanwhile, on September 4, the lander conducted a critical technology demonstration by lifting itself about 40 centimeters (16 inches) off the lunar surface, showcasing the capability to return to orbit. This skill will be vital for future missions intending to bring lunar soil samples or astronauts back to Earth.
The lander and rover are now in hibernation, awaiting reactivation when sunlight returns to their location. While the outcome remains uncertain, the mission has successfully accomplished its primary objectives, making it a significant milestone in India’s space exploration endeavors.