The Pragyan rover is a six-wheeled vehicle, which will carry a laser-induced breakdown spectroscope and an alpha particle induced X-ray spectroscope to perform an elemental analysis of the lunar surface. Handout.

India is about to take its biggest leap to the moon yet, with a mission to land at the lunar south pole, reported.

As the world prepares for the 50th anniversary of NASA’s historic Apollo 11 moon landing in July, the India Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch an ambitious triple-threat mission to the Earth’s nearest neighbor. The mission, called Chandrayaan-2, is scheduled to launch in mid-July.

If successful, India will be the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, following the US, the former Soviet Union and China.

Chandrayaan-2 will launch atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III M1 rocket (India’s most powerful booster) from the country’s Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota. And unlike the country’s first moon orbiter Chandrayaan-1, which launched in 2008, this new spacecraft won’t be alone.

Chandrayaan-2 will include an orbiter, lander and rover that will work together to study the moon from above and its surface. Chandrayaan means “Moon Craft” in Sanskrit, and is the name of the ISRO’s overarching moon exploration project, with Chandrayaan-2 being the second mission in that program, the report said.

If all goes well, Vikram will touch down near the moon’s south pole on Sept. 6. Handout.

Chandrayaan-2’s lander is called Vikram in honor of the Indian scientist Vikram Sarabhai, dubbed the “Father of the Indian Space Programme,” who died in 1971, ISRO officials explained in a mission description. The rover is called Pragyan, or “Wisdom” in Sanskrit.

After launch, Chandrayaan-2 will spend about 16 days orbiting Earth, raising its orbit slowly over time before heading to the moon, the Times of India reported. It should take the mission about five days to reach the moon, after which Chandryaan-2 will spend 27 days in lunar orbit before releasing the Vikram lander.

If all goes well, Vikram will touch down near the moon’s south pole on Sept. 6 in what promises to be a harrowing 15-minute landing sequence, ISRO officials have said.

“The 15-minute operation — in which Vikram makes the final descent and soft-lands — will be the most terrifying as we have never attempted such a complex mission,” ISRO chairman K Sivan told the Times of India.

The solar-powered Vikram is expected to deploy the small Pragyan rover about four hours after landing. Together, the lander and rover are designed to last about one lunar day (14 Earth days) on the moon’s surface, while the Chandrayaan-2 orbtier continues its mission for a full year, according to an ISRO overview.

A wide-angle camera mosaic of the lunar South Pole region. Credit: NASA/Arizona State University

Chandrayaan-2 will carry 13 different scientific instruments to study the moon. They include eight remote-observation payloads on the orbiter, three on the lander and two on the rover.

The payload includes: a soft X-ray monitor (CLASS) and solar X-ray monitor (XSM) used for mapping the elements on the moon’s surface, while the second instrument, which is an L and S-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), is used for identifying the constituents of lunar surface such as water ice; an imaging IR spectrometer (IIRS) instrument used for mapping the lunar surface over a wide wavelength to study the presence of water, hydroxyl and other minerals; a Neutral Mass Spectrometer (CHACE-2) fitted to perform a detailed study of the exosphere; and a Terrain Mapping Camera-2 (TMC-2) used to prepare a 3-D map for studying lunar mineralogy and geology.

According to Aerospace technology, the total cost of the Chandrayaan-2 mission is estimated to be Rs800cr (US$121.87 million), which comprises Rs200cr (US$30.46 million) that will be spent on the launch and Rs600cr (US$91.38m) on the satellite.

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