India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission achieved a significant milestone when it successfully delivered the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover to the lunar surface on August 23rd. However, the rover’s mission may be cut short as the lunar day comes to an end, plunging the surface into darkness. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has decided to put Pragyan into sleep mode due to the lack of solar power during the lunar night. In this article, we will examine the challenges faced by Pragyan and the impact it may have on the overall mission.
The Limitations of Solar Power
Unlike NASA’s Mars rovers, which rely on Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (MMRTGs) with long-lasting power plants, Pragyan depends solely on solar power. While the Chandrayaan-3 mission boasted a relatively modest budget of $75 million, the absence of MMRTGs means that Pragyan’s mission is more susceptible to environmental factors.
As the lunar night sets in, Pragyan has transmitted all of its collected data and entered hibernation mode. The extreme temperatures on the lunar surface, which can drop to -120°C (-184°F), pose a significant challenge to the rover’s electronics. However, with its battery fully charged and the receiver still operational, there is a glimmer of hope that Pragyan can be reactivated when the night passes, allowing it to resume its mission on September 22nd.
The Engineering and Scientific Objectives
The primary engineering objectives of the Chandrayaan-3 mission were to achieve a safe landing on the Moon and demonstrate the rover’s ability to traverse the lunar surface. Thus far, the mission has successfully met these objectives. However, the scientific goals of the mission involve detecting water ice and analyzing the composition of the lunar regolith. To accomplish this, Pragyan is equipped with a spectrometer and spectroscope. The data collected by Pragyan will not only contribute to our understanding of lunar impacts and the evolution of the lunar atmosphere, but it also provides valuable insights into the temperature distribution below the lunar surface.
Temperature and Sulphur Discoveries
Preliminary data released by ISRO reveals a significant contrast in temperature just above and below the lunar surface. While the surface temperature measured 50°C, the temperature just a few millimeters below the surface plummeted to -10°C. This observation aligns with previous findings from other lunar missions and highlights the insulating properties of the top layer of regolith.
Moreover, Pragyan’s in-situ measurements discovered the presence of sulphur at the Moon’s South Pole. While sulphur has been detected elsewhere on the Moon, this is the first time it has been found at the South Pole through direct measurements. Further analysis of the mission’s data is expected to shed more light on these findings, with Indian scientists receiving priority access before it is shared with the international scientific community.
The successful landing of Pragyan on the lunar surface represents a significant accomplishment for ISRO, particularly following the unsuccessful attempt in 2019. With this achievement, India became the fourth nation to attain lunar success, joining the exclusive club of the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. This feat not only strengthens India’s position in global space exploration but also reinforces its self-perception as a nation of great technological prowess.
India’s endeavors in space extend beyond the Chandrayaan-3 mission. The country has launched numerous satellites, both for domestic purposes and in collaboration with other nations. Additionally, India’s Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter lasted an impressive 7.5 years, demonstrating their capabilities in deep space exploration. Moreover, the upcoming joint mission with Japan, known as the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission (LUPEX), emphasizes India’s commitment to advancing lunar exploration. LUPEX will involve another lander/rover mission to the Moon’s South Pole and will also feature the European Space Agency’s Exospheric Mass Spectrometer L-band (EMS-L) instrument, which was initially intended for Russia’s Luna-25 mission.
Hope for Pragyan’s Awakening
Although Pragyan currently rests in hibernation mode, there remains a possibility that it can be reactivated when sunlight returns on September 22nd. ISRO is hopeful that Pragyan’s mission can continue, further adding to the success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission. The outcome of this critical phase awaits eager anticipation from the scientific community and space enthusiasts alike.
India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission has achieved a significant milestone with the successful landing of the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover on the lunar surface. However, Pragyan’s reliance on solar power presents challenges, as the lunar night approaches. The hibernation of Pragyan during this period raises questions about the rover’s ability to continue its mission. Nonetheless, the scientific data collected by Pragyan, including temperature differentials and the discovery of sulphur, will contribute to our understanding of the Moon’s composition and evolution. As India continues to make great strides in space exploration, the potential reawakening of Pragyan holds promise for the continuation of its mission and adds another chapter to India’s achievements in the field.