Chandrayaan-3: India’s lunar lander Vikram is searching for a safe place to land on the lunar surface

  • By Geeta Pandey
  • BBC News, Delhi

photo caption,

One of the latest images sent back by the Vikram lander

India’s space agency has released images of the far side of the moon as its third lunar mission tries to locate a safe landing site on the little-explored south pole.

The images were captured by Vikram, the Chandrayaan-3 lander, which began the final stage of its mission on Thursday.

Vikram, who has a belly rover, is scheduled to land on August 23.

The images come a day after the Russian Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the moon after spinning out of control.

The vehicle — Russia’s first moon mission in nearly 50 years — was to have been the first ever to land on the South Pole, but failed after encountering problems as it moved into orbit before landing.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said Monday morning that the Chandrayaan-3 lander, which is scheduled to touch down on Wednesday at 18:04 local time (12:34 GMT), has mapped the landing area and taken pictures. With a “hazard detection and avoidance” camera.

Isro added that the black and white images sent back by this camera will help them “locate a safe landing area – without rocks or deep trenches.”

The far side of the Moon is the side that faces away from Earth and is sometimes also called the “dark side of the Moon” because so little is known about it. Scientists say landing there could be challenging.

If Chandrayaan-3 is successful, India will be the first to land on the moon’s south pole. It will also be only the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the moon, after the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.

Chandrayaan-3, the third in India’s lunar exploration programme, is expected to build on the success of its previous lunar missions.

This comes 15 years after the country’s first lunar mission in 2008, which detected the presence of water molecules on the moon’s dry surface and proved that the moon has an atmosphere during the day.

Chandrayaan-2 – which also included an orbiter, lander and rover – was launched in July 2019 but was only partially successful. The orbiter continues to orbit and study the Moon even today, but the pre-lander failed to land softly and broke up during landing.

Isro chief Sreedhara Panicker Somanath said the space agency carefully studied data from the crash and ran simulation exercises to patch holes in Chandrayaan-3, which weighs 3,900kg and cost 6.1 billion rupees ($75m; £58m). The landing module weighs about 1,500 kg, including the 26 kg Pragyaan rover.

The moon’s south pole remains largely unexplored – the surface area that is still shadowed there is huge, and scientists say that means there is a possibility of water in permanently shadowed regions.

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