Chandrayaan-2 has sent its first image of the moon from a height of over 2,000 kilometers as it flies around the satellite, preparing to land a rover on the lunar surface. The image was uploaded via a Twitter post by India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization on Thursday evening.
According to the space agency, the photo was taken approximately from a height of about 2650 km from the Lunar surface on August 21, 2019.
The photograph shows part of the far side of the moon revealing some lunar landmarks, namely the Mare Orientale basin and Apollo craters.
Additionally, the photo was taken by its lander, Vikram — named after the founder of ISRO, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, who was also considered as the Father of the Indian space program.
The ISRO has been sharing photos taken by Chandrayaan-2 as a means to update on the progress of the spacecraft as it headed towards the moon.
Earlier in July, Isro had said the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft was in “good health” and moving in the “right direction.”
In the first week of August, Chandrayaan-2 sent first pictures of Earth as viewed in space as it was moving away from the planet.
The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter successfully entered lunar orbit on August 19 (August 20 local time at mission control in India). Notably, Chandrayaan 2’s journey lasted for about a month since its July 22 launch due to fuel-saving measures.
However, the far side of the moon is not Chandrayaan-2’s final destination. Particularly, an orbiter will detach itself from the Chandrayaan-2 satellite and will begin to make its maneuvers to get closer to the moon’s surface.
Tentatively, the ISRO said that the orbiter will release Vikram on September 6 (September 7 local time at mission control) at a location much closer to the moon’s south pole.
“It is expected to make a soft landing (on the surface of the moon) at around 1:40 am and completed by 1:55 am. At the global level, this is an important mission. It is being keenly watched by everyone,” says ISRO Chairman K Sivan.
If the lander completes the short 15-minute powered descent, India will become the only country in the world to perform a “soft landing” near the lunar south pole.
The moon’s south pole is an area in which it is permanently shadowed, including the areas around it.
The ISRO chose that destination because, in Chandrayaan’s first attempt also known as Chandrayaan-1, they discovered the possibility of the existence of water ice in the region.
Scientists believe that the craters in the permanently shadowed region of the moon, which hardly receive near-constant sunlight, holds the possibility that it could store water-ice.
However, unlike Chandrayaan-2, India’s first attempt only consisted of a lunar probe. And so India built a second mission, with Vikram — a lunar lander — and a rover to study the region in more depth.
On the other hand, Chandrayaan-2 is India’s first attempt to land a spacecraft on the Moon, which makes it a challenge if the lander will even make a successful soft-landing in the first place.
Before landing on September 6th, Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter will have to make several more maneuvers similar to the way it entered the moon’s orbit and will do so until it reaches a near-circular orbit of 100 km x 100 km.
The spacecraft will perform several such maneuvers over the next two weeks to bring itself closer and closer to the Moon.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission’s tentative date to begin such maneuvers will be on September 2nd when the lander Vikram will separate from the spacecraft and get into a lunar orbit of its own.
If the lander safely touches down, India will become the fourth country to complete that feat, after the Soviet Union, the U.S. and China.
The lander and rover would operate for one lunar day but are not designed to withstand the frigid lunar nights.
Nonetheless, if all else fails, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will remain functional for an approximate life span of one year. Possibly, it should still be able to scan the moon’s surface from a distance and send more photos back to Earth.