India’s second Moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, has entered the lunar orbit on Tuesday morning, the Indian Space Research Organisation said. The spacecraft is days away from soft landing on the moon, which is scheduled for September 7.
“Lunar Orbit Insertion manoeuver was completed successfully today (August 20, 2019) at 0902 hrs IST [Indian Standard Time] as planned, using the onboard propulsion system,” the space agency said in a statement. “The duration of manoeuver was 1,738 seconds. With this, Chandrayaan-2 was successfully inserted into a Lunar orbit.” In the latest development, the orbit achieved by the spacecraft was 114 km at its nearest point and 18,072 km at its farthest.
ISRO Chairman K Sivan said the mission crossed a major milestone on Tuesday. “It is now orbiting around the moon,” he said, addressing a press conference. “Lunar orbit insertion manoeuver was carried out at 9 am for about 30 minutes and Chandrayaan 2 was precisely inserted in the defined orbit.
Sivan added that three more manoeuvres are to be completed and the next one will be around 1 pm on Wednesday. He said the next major event will happen on September 2, when the lander – called Vikram – will separate from the orbiter and proceed to perform a series of complex braking manoeuvres” before attempting to soft land in the south polar region of the moon. On September 3, a small manoeuvre will be done for about 3 seconds to ensure that the systems of the lander are functioning normally.
“A higher-than-expected approach velocity would have bounced off the spacecraft into deep space, while a slow approach would have led to the moon’s gravity to pull Chandrayaan 2 and crash it on the lunar surface,” Sivan said, according to NDTV. “The approach velocity had to be just right and the altitude over the moon rather precise. Even a small error would have killed the mission,” he said.
He added that the agency has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to witness the landing of Vikram on September 7. “We will surely achieve the successful landing on moon on September 7 by 1.55 pm,” Sivan said.
Lunar orbit insertion remains one of the biggest challenges in the mission after the soft landing. “This was an extremely critical point in the mission, I would say the biggest milestone only second to the lunar landing,” Hindustan Times quoted an unidentified ISRO official as saying. “The moon is a moving object and so is our spacecraft. To ensure lunar capture, several parameters such as the velocity and the inclination had to be precise.”
ISRO said that the health of the spacecraft was being closely monitored and that the systems were doing well. The next lunar-bound orbit manoeuvre is slated for Wednesday afternoon.
Chandrayaan-2 had entered the Lunar Transfer Trajectory on August 14. The spacecraft launched on July 22 on board the 640-tonne Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The space agency has said the spacecraft would reach the moon on August 20.
The spacecraft is being monitored from the Mission Operations Complex at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bengaluru with support from Indian Deep Space Network antennas at Byalalu, near the city.
If the mission is successful, India will become the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the moon after the United States, Russia and China. A successful landing would make Chandrayaan-2 the first lunar probe on the south polar region of the moon.
Also read: What does Chandrayaan-2 hope to accomplish?
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