The race to conquer the lunar south pole is captivating the world’s attention, but the endeavors of India’s Chandrayaan 3 and Russia’s Luna-25 go beyond a mere contest for the first touch. These missions symbolize the spirit of exploration and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
On July 14, India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander embarked on its journey, gracefully entering lunar orbit on August 5. At present, it’s meticulously adjusting its trajectory in anticipation of its imminent landing attempt, scheduled for August 23.
Meanwhile, Russia is making a triumphant return to the Moon after a hiatus that dates back to 1976, when Luna-24, a Soviet-era sample return mission, took place. Luna 25 embarked on its mission on August 10, taking a more direct trajectory to the Moon, positioning it for a potential landing effort as early as August 21.
However, despite the excitement around this apparent race, it’s important to recognize that the finish line isn’t entirely defined, and the rewards aren’t immediately apparent. Instead, the intrigue lies in the prestige garnered, the potential for collaborative ventures, and the scientific revelations that lie ahead. Keep reading to explore more about Russia India News.
The Timing and Landing
A pivotal factor in the timing of these lunar landings is the sun’s trajectory. The landing sites must experience a sunrise, as sunlight is essential for powering the landers on the lunar surface. Moreover, the orbits of both Chandrayaan-3 and Luna-25 will traverse the polar regions of the Moon, allowing them to survey the terrain below.
Chandrayaan-3 is poised to touch down at coordinates 69.37˚S 32.35˚E. On August 21 GMT, the sun will rise over this location, rendering conditions suitable for the solar-powered Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover. The actual touchdown is anticipated around 17:47 IST on August 23.
Luna-25’s target is the Boguslawsky crater at 72.9˚S 43.2˚E. Due to its more easterly position, the sun will rise earlier here (August 20), potentially allowing Luna-25, which is partially solar-powered, to attempt landing sooner. However, this outcome is contingent upon Luna-25’s orbital path and Roscosmos’ plans.
The performance of Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram and Pragyan, both solar-powered, will be time-sensitive, given their one lunar daytime (roughly 14 Earth days) mission lifespan. In contrast, Luna-25 comes equipped with a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), providing heat and power for at least a year, possibly making a landing during the local lunar day less crucial.
The Challenge of Successful Landing
Amidst global interest in lunar exploration, a fleet of spacecraft from different countries now graces the Moon’s surface. While previous robotic landers have ventured there, only China has achieved a soft landing in the 21st century, courtesy of the Chang’e 3, 4, and 5 missions. India and Russia are attempting a similar feat, focusing on the Lunar South Pole.
The curiosity of which spacecraft will land first is tempered by the pivotal question of whether they will achieve a safe landing or an unfortunate impact.
Russia’s return to lunar exploration dates back to the Soviet era, with its last mission, Luna 24, taking flight 47 years ago. Luna-25’s journey has faced over a decade of delays, complicated by last-minute changes to its landing navigation system.
Chandrayaan-3 is more than just a scientific advancement for India. It is also a chance to secure its position alongside the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China. This is exclusive club of nations that have successfully executed a soft lunar landing. This achievement would bolster India’s reputation. It will align with its prior Mangalyaan mission that orbited Mars from 2014 to 2022.
Recent failed attempts by Israeli and Japanese missions underscore the formidable challenges that lie ahead. Successful landings are far from guaranteed, and the world will keenly observe India’s and Russia’s efforts.
Exploring the Lunar South Pole
A core aspect of international fascination centers on the potential presence of trapped water ice at the lunar South Pole. This ice could serve as a propellant or a source of life-sustaining resources for future lunar habitation.
India and Russia are striving to make groundbreaking landings further south than any previous lunar missions: India at 69 degrees and Russia at 72 degrees south of the equator. While these sites aren’t polar in the truest sense, they are novel and promise fresh insights. Locations near the equator are favorable for technical reasons like lighting, communication, and navigational ease.
Both Chandrayaan 3 and Luna-25 are predominantly aimed at testing and demonstrating technology for future soft landings on the Moon.
Comparing the Spacecrafts
Both landers possess similar masses, with Luna-25 weighing approximately 3,860 lbs (1,750 kg) at liftoff, a little over half of which constitutes propellant. Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander weighs 3,862 lbs (1,752 kg), including the Pragyan rover, which weighs 57 lbs (26 kg). Notably, a significant portion of Vikram’s mass is allocated to landing propellant.
Luna-25 carries eight scientific instruments, including the lunar manipulator complex (LMK), capable of excavating lunar regolith. Moreover, it also has Neutron and gamma detector (ADRON-LR) designed to detect water ice.
Vikram aims to maximize its single day in sunlight. It features four scientific payloads. It also includes a thermal probe that will delve around four inches (10 centimeters) into the lunar soil, measuring temperature fluctuations throughout the lunar day. Pragyan will host the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS) and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) for lunar regolith studies. Vikram’s retroreflector, designed to measure Earth-Moon distance, will continue functioning beyond the lander’s operational period.
International collaboration is a hallmark of space missions. Russia faces some limitations for geopolitical reasons. And India benefits from ESA’s “Extract” network for tracking and communication, along with NASA’s contribution to the lunar retroreflector.
A Glimpse into the Future Missions
Russia plans to launch subsequent Luna probes, such as Luna-26 in 2027, Luna-27 in 2028, and Luna-28 after 2030. Its focus is on the China-led International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) initiative, diverging from the US-led Artemis program.
India envisions collaboration with Japan in the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission (LUPEX), set for later this decade. Additionally, India is a signatory to the Artemis Accords, hinting at an expanding role on the global space stage.
The success of Chandrayaan 3 and Luna-25 holds implications for future endeavors and participation in broader initiatives. The countdown is on, and in a matter of days, the world will learn which ventures triumph.