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Chandrayaan-3 vs Russian Luna-25 missions

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Chandrayaan-3 appears to be in a close race with the Russian lunar mission, Luna-25, which has successfully reached lunar orbit, according to the statement from Russian space agency Roscosmos on Wednesday August 16.

The race to the Moon’s south pole is set to gain momentum with India’s third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, entering its final phase where the lander module – comprising the lander and rover – separates from the propulsion module. Chandrayaan-3 appears to be in a close race with the Russian lunar mission, Luna-25, which has successfully reached lunar orbit, according to the statement from Russian space agency Roscosmos on Wednesday August 16.

“All Luna-25 systems are functioning normally; communication with it is stable. Sessions are underway to measure current navigation parameters,” Roscosmos, quoted by Space.com, said in a Telegram post on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Chandrayaan-3 also entered a crucial phase on Wednesday. According to ISRO, the spacecraft successfully underwent a fifth and final maneuver in lunar orbit, bringing it even closer to the surface of the Moon, placing Chandrayaan-3 into a 153 km x 163 km orbit. It simply means that Chandrayaan-3 is 163 km from the Moon.

“Today’s successful launch, necessary for a short duration, has put Chandrayaan-3 into a 153 km x 163 km orbit, as planned. With that, the maneuvers towards the Moon are complete. It is time to prepare as the Propulsion Module and Lander Module prepare for their separate journeys,” ISRO said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

THE SPACE RACE

Chandrayaan-3 plans to be the first to land on the Moon’s south pole. However, speculation is rife that Luna-25’s fast trajectory could allow it to land on the lunar surface before Chandrayaan-3. Amid the claims, experts remain divided over which spacecraft will land first on the Moon’s south pole.

THE NEXT STEPS OF CHANDRAYAAN-3

Chandrayaan-3 was launched on July 14 spacecraft. It entered lunar orbit on August 5, following which orbit reduction maneuvers were performed on August 6, 9, and 14. As the mission progressed, a series of maneuvers were carried out by ISRO to gradually reduce Chandrayaan-3’s orbit and position it above the lunar poles.

The lander will have to undergo a “deboost” (the process of slowing down) to place it in an orbit where the Perilune (closest point to the Moon) is 30 kilometers away and Apolune (the farthest point from the Moon) is at 100 km, news reports the agency PTI.

From this orbit, the soft landing on the Moon’s south polar region will be attempted on August 23, ISRO said. The main challenge in front of ISRO is to lower the speed of the lander as it begins its descent from a height of 30 km to the final landing (position). Another challenge is to transfer the spacecraft from a horizontal direction to a vertical direction is the “thing we have to play”, ISRO President S Somanath had explained earlier.

Chandrayaan-3 is a follow-up mission to Chandrayaan-2 (2019) to demonstrate end-to-end capability for safe landing and roaming on the surface of the Moon.

The Chandrayaan-3 mission objectives involve:

> Demonstrate a safe and smooth landing on the lunar surface

> Demonstrate the operation of the rover on the Moon and conduct in situ scientific experiments

The lander will have the capability to soft-land at a specified lunar site and deploy the rover which will perform in-situ chemical analysis of the Moon’s surface during its mobility. Both the lander and rover carry science payloads to conduct experiments on the lunar surface.

What is a propulsion module in Chandrayaan-3?

The main function of the propulsion module is to transport the lander module “from launcher injection to the final 100 km lunar circular polar orbit”. However, after the separation, it will continue to collect data for a few months. Apart from that, the propulsion module has a scientific payload – the Habitable Planet Earth Spectro-Polarimetry Payload (SHAPE) – as an added value that will be exploited after the separation from the Lander module.

The payload will study “spectral and polari-metric measurements of Earth from lunar orbit,” ISRO said. The goal of this payload is: “Future discoveries of smaller planets in reflected light would probe a variety of exo-planets that would qualify for habitability (or for the presence of life)”.

THE NEXT PHASES OF LUNA-25

Sharing the images on Telegram, the Russian space agency reportedly said: “These images show the elements of the design of the device against the background of the Earth, from where we have already moved away forever, and against the background of the moon, to which we will soon arrive,” Roscosmos wrote on Telegram on Monday (August 14).”

The images were taken at a distance of around 3,10,000 kilometers from the planet, Roscosmos said in a Telegram update.

However, according to Space.com, “Luna-25 still has an important milestone ahead” – which is a planned soft landing near the moon’s south pole, which the mission aims to attempt in the next five to seven days.

As the world watches, both missions are expected to provide groundbreaking insights into the Moon’s composition, history, and potential as a resource-rich body.

The renewed interest in Moon’s south pole is due to its potential water resources and unique geological features. The relatively unexplored region is key for future lunar missions, including US space agency NASA’s upcoming Artemis-III mission, which aims to carry humans to the moon after a five-decade hiatus.

India or Russia – the country that manages to make the soft landing first, would become the first country to do so on the south pole of the Moon. Therefore, this space race takes on greater significance – not only in terms of exploration, but also in the race to become an influential space power across the globe.

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