India has launched its third lunar mission, aiming to be the first to land near its little-explored south pole.
The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft carrying the Orbiter, Lander and Rover lifted off from the Sriharikota Space Center at 14:35 (09:05 GMT) on Friday.
The lander will reach the Moon on August 23-24.
If successful, India will become the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the moon after the US, former Soviet Union and China.
Thousands of people watched the launch in the audience gallery, and commentators described the sight of the rocket as “rising in the sky”. The release was greeted with loud applause and cheers from the public and scientists alike.
“Chandrayaan-3 has started its journey to the moon,” Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) chief Sridra Panicker Somanath said.
Chandrayaan-3, the third in India’s lunar exploration programme, is expected to build on the success of previous lunar missions.
It comes after 13 years The country’s first moon mission was in 2008Chandrayaan-1 project director Myleswamy Annadurai said, “It established the first and most detailed exploration of water on the lunar surface and the Moon.”
Chandrayaan-2 – which also includes an orbiter, lander and rover – was launched in July 2019 but was only partially successful. The orbiter continues to circle and study the Moon today, but the Lander-Rover failed to make a soft landing and crashed on impact. It was due to a “last-minute problem with the brake system,” explained Mr. Annadurai.
Mr. Somanath said they carefully studied the data from the last crash and conducted simulation exercises to correct the flaws.
Weighing 3,900 kilograms and costing 6.1 billion rupees ($75m; 58m pounds), Chandrayaan-3 has the same goal as its predecessor – to ensure a soft landing on the lunar surface, he added.
The lander (named Vikram after ISRO’s founder) weighs about 1,500 kg and carries a 26 kg rover in its belly, which is called Pragyan, a Sanskrit word for wisdom.
After Friday’s liftoff, the craft will take 15 to 20 days to enter lunar orbit. Scientists will then begin to slow down the rocket over the next few weeks to bring it to a level that will allow Vikram to land comfortably.
If all goes to plan, the six-wheeled rover will roam around the rocks and craters on the moon, collecting vital data and images that will be sent back to Earth for analysis.
“The rover will carry five instruments which will focus on learning about the physical properties of the lunar surface, near-surface atmosphere and tectonic activity. I hope to study what’s going on underneath. Find something new,” Mr Somanath told Mirror Now.
The south pole of the moon is still largely unexplored – the surface area remaining in the shadow is much larger than the north pole of the moon, which means that there is a possibility of water in the permanently shadowed areas. Chandrayaan-1 first detected water on the Moon in 2008.Near the South Pole.
“We have more scientific interest in this space,” Mr. Somanath said.
If we want to make a significant scientific discovery, we need to go to a new place like the South Pole, but the risks of getting on board are high.
Mr Somanath added that data from the Chandrayaan-2 crash was “collected and analysed” and helped correct all the bugs in the latest mission.
“The Chandrayaan-2 rover has been providing very high quality images of our target landing site and the data has been thoroughly studied so we can find out how many rocks and craters there are and widen the landing area. For a better chance.”
Mr Annadurai said the landing had to be “absolutely precise” to coincide with the start of a lunar day (a day on the moon equals 14 days on Earth) because the lander and rover’s batteries needed sunlight. Able to fill and work.
Mr. Annadurai said the moon mission was considered an interesting project to attract talent during India’s IT boom in the early 2000s, as most tech graduates wanted to join the software industry.
“The success of Chandrayaan-1 has helped in this number. The space program has made India proud and now working for ISRO is considered very prestigious.”
But the larger goal of India’s space program, Mr. Annadurai said, “includes science and technology and the future of humanity.”
India is not the only country with eyes on the moon – there is a growing global demand. And scientists say there’s still a lot to understand about the moon, often called the gateway to deep space.
“If we want to develop the moon as an outlet, a gateway to deep space, we need to do a lot more exploration to see what kind of habitation we can build with local materials and how to do it. Take supplies there for our people,” said Mr. Annadurai.
“So the ultimate goal of India’s probe is that when the moon – at a distance of 360,000 km – is an extended continent of the Earth, we will not be a bystander, but active, protected life in that continent and we must continue to work for it.
And the successful Chandrayaan-3 will be a significant step in that direction.
Sign up for our morning newsletter And get BBC News in your inbox.