India on Wednesday is preparing for its second attempt to land on the moon, a historic moment for the world’s most populous country.
Chandrayaan-3, which means ‘moon vehicle’ in Sanskrit, is set to drop off the Vikram lander shortly after 6pm IST near the moon’s little-explored south pole, in what will be a world first. any space programme.
A previous Indian attempt failed in 2019, and the latest mission comes just days after Russia’s first lunar mission in nearly 50 years, headed for the same region, crashed into the lunar surface.
Former Indian Aerospace Chief K Sivan said the latest images sent back by the lander give every indication that the final leg of the flight will be successful.
“What encourages us is that we will be able to complete the landing mission without any problem,” he told AFP on Monday.
Sivan added that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had made corrections after its failure four years ago, when scientists lost contact with a lunar rover moments before its scheduled landing.
“Chandrayaan-3 will be more powerful,” he said. “We have confidence, and we expect that everything will go smoothly.”
The mission launched nearly six weeks ago to thousands of cheering spectators, and took much longer to reach the moon than the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s, which arrived in a matter of days.
India uses much less powerful missiles than the United States used at the time. Instead, the probe orbited the Earth several times to gain speed before embarking on its month-long lunar trajectory.
The spacecraft’s lander, Vikram, which means “brave” in Sanskrit, separated from its thrust module last week and has been sending back images of the lunar surface since entering lunar orbit on Aug. 5.
A day before the landing, ISRO said on social media that it was going according to schedule and that its mission control complex was “busting with energy and excitement.”
“The smooth sailing continues,” the agency posted on X, formerly Twitter.
India has a relatively low-budget space programme, but it has grown exponentially in size and momentum since it sent its first probe into lunar orbit in 2008.
The cost of the latest mission is $74.6 million, which is much lower than other countries’ costs, in keeping with India’s frugal space engineering.
Experts say India is able to keep costs down by imitating and adapting existing space technology, thanks to an abundance of highly skilled engineers who earn a fraction of the wages of their foreign counterparts.
In 2014, India became the first Asian country to put a satellite into orbit around Mars, and is set to launch a manned mission to Earth orbit in the next few years, starting with uncrewed test flights in 2024.
Sivan, the former head of ISRO, said India’s efforts to explore the moon’s relatively unmapped south pole would make a “very, very important” contribution to scientific knowledge.
Only Russia, the United States and China managed to achieve a controlled landing on the moon.