India’s Moon hope enters lunar orbit

India’s budget mission to land on the Moon’s surface is a step closer, following the arrival of its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft in lunar orbit.

The mission, which set off from Satish Dhawan Space Center on 14 July, is hoping to catapult India into the history books as the fourth nation – following the United States, Soviet Union and China – to successfully execute a lunar landing.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) marked the arrival with the release of a video charting the spacecraft’s Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI). Chandrayaan-3 is currently orbiting about 140 kilometres from the Moon’s surface.

That distance will gradually reduce over the coming weeks as ISRO calibrates Chandrayaan-3’s position through a series of engine fires. It aims to land its Vikram lander at the lunar south pole on 23 August.

If successful, Vikram’s hatch will open to release ISRO’s Pragyan rover. This vehicle will chart the largely unexplored southern pole and collect data on the Moon’s composition in the region.

Chandrayaan-3 marks the second attempt by India to execute a landing at the Moon’s south pole following its failed effort in 2019. It’s now the third time ISRO has undertaken a successful LOI.

With a 6.1-billion-rupee price tag (A$112m, US$75m), the Indian Moon mission is lean compared to those of other spacefaring nations and private enterprises. Part of that price tag boils down to wages paid to mission engineers and replicating existing technology for its spacecraft and equipment.

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